John Mayer – Continuum

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  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from chorus.fm for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    From the moment it was released, it seemed like John Mayer’s Continuum was poised to be a classic. That’s not because Mayer was particular respected at the time. Sure, Mayer hadn’t yet put his foot in his mouth by making stupid comments to interviewers. Still, though, the Berklee dropout turned pop sensation wasn’t exactly anyone’s first bet in the “guess who will have career longevity” game. It was obvious from early on that Mayer had chops, and equally obvious that he could write a damn sturdy pop song. (Listen to Room for Squares and tell me those tunes don’t still sound like hits.) But he was a teen pop icon first and foremost, and most of his songs seemed destined to become relics of early 2000s radio. You need only listen to “Your Body Is a Wonderland” once to realize how easily Mayer could have been a pop cultural punchline 10 years after the fact.

    Continuum changed all that in the space of 12 songs. Mayer’s second album, 2003’s Heavier Things, had mellowed out his sound a bit and taken him in a more mature lyrical direction, but the changes had been small progressions rather than quantum leaps forward. The record was good, but it didn’t scream “classic” and it wasn’t Mayer’s ticket out of the Jason Mraz/Gavin Degraw/Josh Kelley/Jack Johnson club.

    In 2005, though, Mayer started to show signs that he wasn’t going to be the sensitive pop singer songwriter anymore. On September 10th of that year, he appeared on television for the ReAct Now concert, a four-and-a-half-hour Hurricane Katrina benefit that spanned multiple cities. Gone was Mayer’s previous clean-cut image, and gone was his old pop-driven sound. Sporting long hair, billed as the “John Mayer Trio,” and performing alongside seasoned vets Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan, Mayer played a bluesy slowburn number called “Gravity.” The song was arguably the standout performance of the night, and I vividly recall hearing Mayer sing the line “Gravity, stay the hell away from me” for the first time and getting chills down my spine. Right afterward, I was online, looking for any word on Mayer’s next album, or where I might get my hands on the song.

    I wouldn’t have to wait long. A few months later, the John Mayer Trio released Try!, a live album that was part new material, part covers, and part expanded live versions of Heavier Things tracks. The main draw was “Gravity,” but I recall not being particularly taken with the rest of the record initially. I’d loved Mayer’s first records largely for their catchy melodies and contemplative balladry. Try! was fun, but it was all long guitar solos and jam band improvisation—neither things that I necessarily wanted to listen to repeatedly. Despite my love for “Gravity,” I was suddenly skeptical about Mayer’s new forays into the world of blues, soul, and jazz.

    Almost a year to the day after the ReAct Now concert, a studio version of “Gravity” finally arrived, as the fourth track on Mayer’s third full-length, Continuum. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy the album right away. I think I was waiting for someone to tell me that Mayer hadn’t completely forsaken his old sound, that the balladry was still there, and that the jams were kept to a minimum. When someone online finally reassured me that Continuum struck the perfect balance between Mayer’s old sound and his new direction, I ordered it off Amazon, alongside the second album from The Killers. Given how much I’d loved Hot Fuss, I expected to spend a lot of time with Sam’s Town for the first few weeks and then transition into Continuum. Ironically, Sam’s Town was the album that rubbed me the wrong way by straying too far from its predecessor. (Note: I’ve long since recanted on this stance.) Continuum, on the other hand, felt like home.

    From the album cover to the liner notes to the soulful hook of opener “Waiting on the World to Change,” Continuum is an album that feels timeless on every level. Mayer could still write a catchy chorus, too. The “Waiting on the World to Change” hook is arguably too infectious, lodging itself in your brain after a single listen and refusing to budge, while the “We’re never gonna win the world/We’re never gonna stop the war” refrain on “Belief” is a subtler but no less striking earworm. He could also still write a ballad, with Continuum taking a much more downbeat and restrained path than I expected after hearing the songs on Try! But from the weightier feel of the songs to the sharper focus on instrumental virtuosity, Continuum took Mayer’s sound and made it feel like the furthest thing from teen pop—all without alienating fans that had been there from the beginning.

    If Room for Squares saw Mayer writing sturdy pop songs that just about anyone could have recorded and gotten on the radio with, Continuum was the sound of him writing American songbook classics. “Waiting on the World to Change,” though far from my favorite Mayer song, defined millennial discouragement long before millennials were the targets of every social media complainer; “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” parlayed one of the all-time greatest song titles into one of the all-time greatest breakup songs; and “Gravity” became a well-deserved blues/soul classic for the modern era—a song whose guitar solo even made it onto Rolling Stone’s list of the best solos of all time.

    10 years later, it’s easy to forget just how incredible these songs are. Mayer’s had a roller coaster of a decade, dropping three solo albums, alienating himself from the entire world following a disastrous Playboy interview, becoming a folk and alt-country artist for a spell, temporarily losing his voice to a rare condition called granuloma, and stepping in as Jerry Garcia’s spiritual successor for the Grateful Dead spinoff Dead & Company. Some days, I even feel inclined to call 2012’s Born & Raised my favorite Mayer album, just because I appreciate his take on folk music so much. But it’s tough to look at the Continuum tracklist or listen through this record and hear it as anything other than the crown jewel of an immensely talented artist’s career. The guitar solos hit harder: see John’s pitch-perfect emulation of Jimi Hendrix on the cover of “Bold as Love.” The compositions are more ambitious: see the organ-abetted sprawl of “In Repair.” The sensitive, contemplative moments offer more to ponder: see “Stop This Train,” one of the best songs ever written about growing up and growing old. I defy anyone to listen to these songs, with an open and objective mind, and tell me they aren’t superb examples of craft. Even if you hate John Mayer for his obnoxious public persona; even if you mock his early hits; even if you wrote him off long ago as a pretty boy with a guitar, these songs are undeniable.

    The list goes on, too. “Belief” manages to be anti-war without being preachy; “I Don’t Trust Myself (with Loving You)” proved that John had what it took to name Clapton as a core influence and justify it; “Heart of Life” previewed the beautiful restraint of Mayer’s folk side, years before he made a full record in that vein; “Dreaming with a Broken Heart” showed that Mayer could still write heartbreak songs for the same “co-eds” that had fallen in love with his first two albums; and “I’m Gonna Find Another You” saw him at his most soulful, adding horns into the mix for a song that immediately felt like it could have been cut by any soul or R&B artist in the ’60s or ’70s.

    It is not easy to write songs that emulate the styles of bygone eras—and that sound like they could have come from those bygone eras—without being overly derivative or copycat-ish. One of the most impressive facets of Continuum is that Mayer pulls it off every single time. From his lyricism to his guitarwork to the arrangements of the songs to the production—which Mayer and Steve Jordan handled together—Continuum has the feel, sheen, and importance of records that are 20, 30, 40 years older than it. It’s funny: leading up to the release of Sam’s Town, Brandon Flowers said that the second Killers record would be “one of the best in the past 20 years.” Of the records released in the fall of 2006, though, Continuum was the one that deserved that distinction. From the beginning, it felt like an album that people would still be listening to in 20 or 30 years, and it still does. It’s a genuine classic from the era where monoculture died.

    Continuum landed multiple songs on the radio, got a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, and earned Mayer the label of “Guitar God” from Rolling Stone. All told, it turned him from a teen pop idol into a respected musician. It probably goes without saying that, if it weren’t for this album, there’s no way Mayer gets to play with Buddy Guy and B.B. King, serve as a core collaborator on Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE, or join Dead & Company.

    But Continuum is most striking for how human it is. Mayer’s PR status of “douchebag” makes it easy to write off just how good he is at capturing the human condition, but his songs straddle the personal and universal better than virtually any famous songwriter this side of Bono. Ask me to list 25 songs I wish I’d written, and chances are that both “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and “Stop This Train” would be on there, simply for how well they capture moments that just about everyone goes through at some point in life. The former lays a relationship to rest in flames and resignation, with the first four lines alone (“It’s not a silly little moment/It’s not the storm before the calm/This is the deep and dying breath/Of this love that we’ve been working on”) doing more to relate both the pain and acceptance of heartbreak than most pop punk bands have mustered in entire catalogs.

    As for “Stop This Train,” I can’t listen to those verses without contemplating my own mortality a bit. Back a few years ago, before I’d lost anyone very close to me, that song struck me as the encapsulation of dying youth. “I play the numbers game to find a way to say that life has just begun,” Mayer sings in the third verse: he’s the Peter Pan archetype, the guy who doesn’t want to accept that he ain’t that young anymore. After I lost my grandpa, though, the song took on new dimensions. “Stop This Train” isn’t just about dying youth; it’s about time in general, and how everything changes faster than you ever thought it would. “Once in awhile, when it’s good/It’ll feel like it should/When you’re all still around/And you’re still safe and sound/And you don’t miss a thing/’Til you cry when you’re driving away in the dark,” goes the bridge. The profundity of the pain in those words is limitless, because we always think we’ll get more time with the people we love. One more visit; one more vacation; one more Christmas; one more conversation; one more night out at the bar. When you lose someone and realize those things aren’t possibilities anymore, it really rips the rug out from under you. “Stop This Train” captures the essence of that feeling as well as any song I’ve ever heard.

    Even if John Mayer never makes another record as great as this one again—and him doing so is unlikely—I feel like Continuum has preserved his place in the canon of post-millennial rock stars. This is the record they’ll talk about when they inevitably induct him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is the album that artists a decade or two down the road will be calling back to as something they are trying to recreate. This is the album that will insure his legacy. I enjoy every album John Mayer has ever made, and I’d be totally fine if he continued his trek down the roads of folk and alt-country. Continuum, though, will always be his definitive masterpiece.

     
  2. Jonathan Bautts

    Newbie

    Excellent review and retrospective Craig. This has crystallized into my favorite album of all time over the last few years.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  3. popdisaster00

    Moderator Moderator

    It's far and away his best album, and probably one of the best albums of that decade.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
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  5. atlas

    Trusted

    "In Repair" helped me through some very challenging times a while back. Will always love this album
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  6. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Thanks Jonathan! Definitely up there for me, too. Whenever I revisit it, it just blows me away how much he accomplished on here.

    Yeah, I'd put it as one of the best of the millennium so far, for sure. I've always felt like it was one of the albums from the last decade that was most likely to end up earning "classic" status.
     
    Matt Chylak and popdisaster00 like this.
  7. Pepetito

    Newbie

    Great review. I spun this album to death when it came out while I was in college.
     
  8. Lucas27

    Trusted

    What an awesome and unexpected review. I always liked John Mayer's softer, acoustic side more so I never considered this my favorite album of his until recently when I realized it's just undeniably amazing. I especially love the section on "Stop This Train" because that really is (to me anyway) his best song and one of the best songs I've ever heard. The poignancy and humanity of that song puts it more in line with a Sufjan song than any mainstream artist. It's such a shame that John Mayer lost his reputation in the eyes of so many because I think so much of his music (outside of Battle Studies) really speaks a lot more to the human condition (especially Born & Raised). No matter how awful that one Playboy interview comment was, I think his songs say a lot about him as a person.

    I also just want to make a special mention of "Vultures" because no one ever mentions that song and I actually think that might be the most ear-wormy John Mayer song out there.
     
    Schooner likes this.
  9. Chase Tremaine

    theherox @oursbyaccident oursbyaccident.com Supporter

    Well done, @Craig Manning

    My youth pastor back in high school was a huge fan of this record and would often blast it over the speakers before our Sunday evening services started. I still remember being at church the very first time I heard "Vultures."
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  10. SamLevi11

    Trusted Prestigious

    Fantastically written. This is one of my top 10 albums. A rare 10/10.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  11. SpyKi

    This Charming Man Supporter

    Score's too low.
     
  12. GetUpAndrew

    Constant horror and bone-deep dissatisfaction.

    One of my favorite records of all time, I just can't explain how much I love every single song on it.
     
  13. Liz

    I'm a loner Dottie, a rebel

    Nothing but love for this album. "Stop This Train" always makes me cry and "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" is one of my favorite songs in the entire Universe
     
    Schooner and Craig Manning like this.
  14. derekjd

    Slow down, Quentin Supporter

    There's a moment, in a good song, where the world falls away. You feel a shiver down your spine like a cat rubbed all the way from snout to tail. It's best when you hear it on your second or fifth or twentieth listen -- where that lyric or that tone or that vocal inflection finally clicks into place with your day or night or breakup or whatever, and it feels whole. You have that little thought, which Steve Hyden correctly identifies as wrong, when you think "omg, this guy gets me."
    The very best records are those where not every song hits you, but you know, sooner or later, they will. There's a love song that hasn't slammed home because you haven't loved enough, or correctly. A song about death which, while great, lacks substance because you haven't lost anyone close enough.
    There are two main records for me like that: Marc Cohn's self-titled asterpiece, and Continuum.

    CM's reviews have been known to create that world-drop-out-cat-shiver feeling, too. Someone better tell that dude he writes like a force of nature. I would, but I'm too busy listening to Vultures.
     
  15. jorbjorb

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    great album. can't wait to hear a new one,.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  16. JohnR831

    Regular

    Great writeup for an outstanding album! I always enjoy reading your reviews!!
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  17. JulieLynn

    You Should Be Loving Someone Prestigious

    This gave me so many feels and I fully plan on listening to this album on my way home from work tonight.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  18. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    "Stop This Train" probably is my favorite song of his as I get older. I feel like a lot of the people who write him off for his hits would reconsider if they gave that song a shot.

    Do you now like Battle Studies? I don't think that one is a dip at all. It's less exceptional than the albums that came on either side of it (and a lot safer), but there are still some fantastic songs on there. "Edge of Desire" is, for my money, his best guitar solo. Not his most technically impressive, but his most emotional. And "Assassin" is one of his coolest songs.

    I would have probably given this one a 10/10 if I had been rating on the AP.net system.

    I love this post. So cool to have those albums that just grow with you over time.
     
    SpyKi likes this.
  19. JulieLynn

    You Should Be Loving Someone Prestigious

    John Mayer's greatest songs, IMO:

    Dear Marie
    Queen Of California
    Shadow Days
    Born and Raised
    Love is a Verb
    Walt Grace's Submarine Test
    A Face To Call home
    Assassin
    Edge of Desire
    Belief
    Gravity
    Vultures
    Stop This train
    Slow Dancing in a Burning room
    dreaming with a broken heart
    In repair
    Bigger than my body
    something's missing
    split screen sadness
    Why Georgia
    83
    3x5
    Great Indoors
    Not myself
    St. Patrick's Day

    I could go on and on and on and on about this man. I saw him Last year play with The Grateful Dead. Mind fucking blown for life kids.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  20. JulieLynn

    You Should Be Loving Someone Prestigious

    This song still gets me through those times. and "Edge of Desire" makes me think about how my life would be different had I chosen a different path.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  21. JulieLynn

    You Should Be Loving Someone Prestigious

    Also, John Mayer just makes me day dream about Todd :hearteyes:
     
  22. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    There are so many great ones. I always forget about "Dear Marie" for some reason, but I love that song so much. "Wheel" is another favorite of mine, of the ones you didn't list. And "On the Way Home."
     
  23. JulieLynn

    You Should Be Loving Someone Prestigious

    Don't get me wrong, I love all the songs on all of his albums, this is just my person favorites, but yes wheel and on the way home are great songs. I am so stupid excited about his next album. He's been leaking some cool tunes on snapchat!
     
  24. JulieLynn

    You Should Be Loving Someone Prestigious

    @Craig Manning I was going to PM you this question but your settings won't let me. would you ever consider doing a review like this for say like....FOB?
     
  25. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    I probably wouldn't be the one to do it for FOB. I don't really have that much of a connection with their earlier records, so when a 10-year comes up for one of those I probably wouldn't even think to do it. There are bigger fans of that band on staff. I don't dislike them or anything, I just don't have as much to say.
     
  26. Ryan Gardner

    @RyanGardnerC Moderator

    Definitely giving this a spin tonight. I'm a huge, huge fan of Battle Studies but actually never spent much time with this one.
     
    Schooner likes this.