Rock

Published on March 6th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak

‘Continuum’ – John Mayer [2006]

‘Continuum’ – John Mayer [2006] Andy Sedlak

Summary: The man responsible for "Your Body is a Wonderland" grows up and releases his most eloquent album to date. Continuum is musically laid back, but thematically sure of itself. This is the sound of Mayer capturing lightning in a bottle.

4

Damn Fine


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Length: 48:34  |  Release: Sept. 12 2006

Produced By: John Mayer, Steve Jordan  |  Label: Columbia

Top 40 U.S. Singles: 1  |  Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 2

Notable guests musicians: Ben Harper on “Belief,” Willie Weeks on “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You), and Boo and Willie Mitchell on “I’m Gonna Find Another You.”

Mayer, onstage in 2007.

The nation was changing in 2006. And that autumn we found out who – in the pop world – had been reading the paper.

Contrast, disparity and debate. Our collective conscious labored to confront the 5-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. After the tragedy, Gallup data showed President George W. Bush’s approval was a historic 90 percent. But in September 2006, the war in Iraq was in its third year. New polling data showed Bush’s approval rating dipping below 40 percent.

It would never recover.

The scenery was shifting and the storylines were becoming more divisive. Not that this was reflected much in popular music.

Here are some #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2006:

  • “Don’t Forget About Us” – Mariah Carey
  • “Laffy Taffy” – D4L
  • “Promiscuous” – Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland
  • “London Bridge” – Fergie
  • “Temperature” – Sean Paul
  • “Ridin’” – Chamillionaire 
  • “You’re Beautiful” – James Blunt
  • “Sexyback” – Justin Timberlake ft. Timbaland
  • “Money Maker” – Ludacris ft. Pharrell

 And these were all Top 20 hits:

  • “Touch It” – Busta Rhymes
  • “Call Me When You’re Sober” – Evanescence 
  • “Breaking Free” – Zac Efron, Drew Seeley, Vanessa Anne Hudgens
  • “Bossy” – Kellis
  • “Shake That” – Eminem ft. Nate Dogg
  • “Stupid Girls” – Pink 
  • “Over My Head (Cable Car)” – The Fray
  • “Pump It” – the Black Eyed Peas
  • “Chain Hang Low” – Jibbs
  • “Smack That” – Akon ft. Eminem
  • “Stars Are Blind” – Paris Hilton
  • “Far Away” — Nickelback

But among the list of Top 20 hits of 2006 was Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” – a meditation on the perceived absence of a generation’s consciousness, and likely much more. It felt like the explanation you tried to think of when someone across the table asked, “What do you have to say for yourself?”

It instilled faith. “You know what? It is coming.” It may be the most elegant what’s-the-point song ever written.

Mayer’s Continuum was released the month after I moved away to college. That is to say it came long at an impressionable time. The record was undeniably polished, and sleeker than past studio releases. It immediately felt steadier than 2003’s Heavier Things.

Despite his last-call reputation, Mayer has always given fans the impression that he spends time lying awake at night. Continuum’s eloquence came from the crystalline fashion in which he looked beyond his favorite subject – himself.

What follows after “Waiting on the World to Change” is a song-suite that ebbs and flows. “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” comes off as a pleasant throwaway on first listen.  But repeated listens reveal a well-composed identity crisis.

I don’t trust myself with loving you…

Before long we were reading that Mayer described his relationship with starlet Jessica Simpson as “sexual napalm” (Playboy 2010). In the same landmark interview, he referred to his penis as a “white supremacist” and said his “dream” was to script a porno.

He would assemble a hyper-popular twitter account, and then dismantle it. In the next few years he would be forced to take an extended leave from performing live because of an illness. He would take up with – then break up with – Taylor Swift and Jen Aniston.

I don’t trust myself with loving you, indeed.

It may have been the most confessional – and prophetic – line Mayer had written up to that point.

Mayer’s well-documented dating life inspired some of Continuum‘s most personal lyrics.

Continuum was produced by the artist and Steve Jordan (Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos, Eric Clapton and the Saturday Night Live Band). The pair put Mayer’s minimalistic tastes first, keeping the sonic range of the record nestled between blue-eyed soul and suburban blues with funk guitar flourishes. It all aligns on “Belief,” which moves outward after the confessional “I Don’t Trust Myself.” The song rides a hypnotic groove that undercuts the lyric if the ears are easily distracted:

We’re never going to win the world

We’re never going to stop the war

We’re never gonna beat this

If belief is what we’re fighting for

And then there’s the jarring opening line … although part of its impact is lost due to a garbled delivery.

Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign?

The album trades inward and outward glances. “Gravity” moves back in, and then “The Heart of Life” carries us out. There’s a sort of “Father Knows Best” charm to the latter, and serves as the album’s collective exhale five songs in.

Jordan served as the drummer in the John Mayer Trio and their release, 2005’s Try! casts a long, inspirational shadow over Continuum. “Vultures” and “Gravity” both appear on the live outing released only a year earlier. The songs receive studio gloss on Continuum. The Trio recorded a Jimi Hendrix song, “Wait Until Tomorrow.” Mayer does the same on Continuum, only trades “Wait Until Tomorrow” for “Bold as Love.” Both songs originally appeared on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love in 1967.

Producer Steve Jordan (left) played drums in the guitarist’s John Mayer Trio.

“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” shows us a breakup disguised as a tenuous commitment.  Mayer’s liquidy guitar line serves as a transitional piece between some of the album’s most acidic lines:

Nobody’s gonna come and save you,
We pulled too many false alarms.

I was the one you always dreamed of,
You were the one I tried to draw.

You try to hit me just to hurt me
So you leave me feeling dirty
Because you can’t understand.

“Stop This Train” joins “Heart of Life” as the album’s it-ain’t-so-bad sentiment. The charming acoustic riff gives the placid feel of a runaway train. Then the confession: “I’m only good at being young.”

The album ends with Stax-inspired horns on the immediately likable “I’m Gonna Find Another You.” It’s never out of fashion to wrap your record talking directly to the one who doesn’t understand. Most of our heroes have done it. The Beatles did it on Rubber Soul with the Elvis Presley-inspired “Run For Your Life.”  John Mellencamp did it on Scarecrow with “The Kind of Fella I Am.”

And Mayer’s rare form feels hard-won. After all, we’d just spent the past 40 minutes tackling generation gaps, identity crises, religious zealots, haters, decaying romance, scarred hearts and the shortness of life.

The album has been chided for not stretching the guitarist’s musical chops. A certain sect of fans wondered if the revved-up blues on Try! may give Mayer more creative license on Continuum. Mayer had been building and layering his sound with each album. Try! was a live jam record, so it was appropriately raw in its execution.

But with Mayer heading back into the studio, the heart didn’t sag at new possibilities. Could Continuum serve as John’s foray into stadium rock?

That was an interesting idea. But the possibility only lasted a minute.

Because that’s not what John gave us. Continuum is a nuanced record that doesn’t stray far from a well-prepared musical character. Does that make it sonically consistent … or boring? You decide.

But I can say with absolute certainty that at that time – when I had shed my home-by-midnight skin and became a college man – it was easy to believe in Mayer.

“Now I’m gonna dress myself for two,” Mayer sings on “Find Myself Another You.” “Once for me … and once for someone new.”

It’s the kind of cheesy optimism that only works after your face has spent some time in the mud. And although the generational meditations and romantic battle cries scratched a certain itch, freshmen at Wright State needed to hear that too.

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About the Author

Andy Sedlak is a former television reporter who lives in Dayton, OH. He grew up in a household that pumped Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel every weekend. He instantly became a new man when he discovered Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in junior high.



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