John Mayer’s third full length studio album has received almost completely positive reviews from music critics. Actually, if it were not for these reviews I would have written this a week ago and proclaimed this one of the worst albums ever. Since I figured I was missing something that was obvious to others, I gave Continuum a few more listens.
Mayer was admittedly in a weird place in his career when getting ready to record Continuum. He had created two popular and well-done pop albums with Room for Squares and Heavier Things. His writing was much deeper than most popular artists and it worked well with the acoustic pop of RFS and more mature Adult Contemporary sound on Heavier Things. In 2005, he created the John Mayer Trio and moved from singer-songwriter mode to blues/soul mode on Try. Continuum is a mix of Mayer letting out his blues/soul side, while still attempting to create accessible pop music.
Unfortunately, it does not work so well. Mayer’s lyrics just don’t resonate the way his earlier works did. Waiting on the World to Change (“We keep on waiting/ Waiting for the world to change/ One day our generation/ Is gonna rule the population”) and Belief (“Everyone believes/ And no one’s going quietly”) are so vaguely political that they don’t really mean anything. Many of the other songs are about heartache and losing love, though most of them show little depth. The theme of bittersweet relationships runs throughout the album and occasionally scores a victory like I Don’t Trust Myself with Mayer singing, “No, I’m not the man I used to be lately/ See, you met me at an interesting time/ And if my past is any sign of your future/ You should be warned before I let you inside.” This is a brilliant song in the soul tradition and Mayer lets the subject of the song know he wants what is best for her, but it is not necessarily him.
Musically, the album is completely solid. The only misstep is that his voice just can not handle the chorus of Vultures and give the song the smooth falsetto that it needs. Mayer uses bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan from his Trio and the three are great together. My biggest problem besides the lack of quality lyrics is the production. Mayer and Jordan produced it together. They employed a slick sound that is often too tinny making some of Mayer’s guitar and vocals sound really corny. Never have the blues sounded so shinny and unthreatening.
There are some wonderful moments here and I Don’t Trust Myself, The Heart of Life and Stop This Train are definitely standouts. I’m glad I listed more closely to it. Overall though, it is still a big disappointment. This will probably appeal to many of his Adult Contemporary fans, but Mayer is too talented to create this uneven and poorly produced album. Of course, remember that there are dozens of critics who disagree with me.
1.75 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.