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Music Review: John Mayer – Continuum

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Released on September 12, 2006, John Mayer’s Continuum is a recording full of reverential and derivative music. This is his third studio album following his multi-platinum Room for Squares (2001) and Heavier Things (2003), and he is currently on a world tour promoting it — next stop, Dubai, the new Las Vegas of the Middle East.
 
Any true rocker will quickly relegate Continuum to the dinner music category. Mayer’s laid back white guy blues style, and his voice, reminiscent of Dave Matthews’, can lull anyone into amiable conversation and an insightful view of the world. But if you give this album a few devoted listenings, you might find yourself tapping your foot and humming along with Mayer’s catchy tunes, probably because they all sound so familiar.
 
While Mayer’s music on this release is obviously derivative of many fine singer songwriters, Mayer himself is all about the lyrics. While listening to Continuum, you might find yourself humming along to the first song on this recording, also the first single from this release, “Waiting on the World to Change”, with the words “People get ready, there’s a train a coming, you don’t need no baggage, you just get on board,” from Curtis Mayfield’s 1964 brilliant hit song People Get Ready.”
When listening to other Mayer songs, you might find yourself thinking of Van Morrison, Leon Russell, and Paul Simon. Being compared to the cream of the ’60-’70s singer songwriters is no low blow. But Mayer needs to develop his own sound, not favor the songs, tunes, and styles of others for his own material. With this issue in mind, this reviewer won’t be surprised to hear Mayer’s next release will feature a bigger horn
section a la Morrison, the addition of an acoustic piano player a la Leon Russell, or the collaboration with African and other World music artists a la Paul Simon. It would all be more inviting were Mayer to find his own unique musical style instead of borrowing from other masters of the singer songwriter genre.

On many Continuum cuts you will find yourself wishing for just one ripping guitar solo, but once again, Mayer tightly constricts himself and refuses to open up his music for a little jamming. He takes a few two bar solos on a few cuts — and one song fades out to the only four bar lead solo on the album — but Mayer never lets loose with his guitar, leaving this reviewer aching for some true guitar leads. 

Perhaps Mayer needs to stop thinking of himself as a great guitarist, which he is clearly not – no matter how many times his own press material touts him as such — as none of his hoped-for guitar greatness is apparent on this release. Instead, Mayer should take heed and focus on his real skill – that of writing lyrics. Then he can hire himself a true guitar gunslinger to rock the crowd — or to rock with.

How Mayer could compare himself to true guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, while exhibiting no flashy guitar work himself on his recordings, is hard to understand, except for the possible explanation of hero worship and wishful thinking. Nothing on Continuum would leave anyone thinking Mayer is a great guitarist.  Mayer has a long way to go before he can be compared to such guitar legends. Perhaps that’s why he realized he could never graduate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which he calls a “short-lived stint” on his website, and dropped out and moved to Atlanta at the age of 19.
Mayer is clearly a gifted lyrical songwriter and on Continuum he uses this gift to delve into the world of aging. About this he says:

My generation was never told we were going to get older. We thought we were going to hear our names on ‘Romper Room’ for the rest of our lives. For a long time, I was really upset about getting older, worried that things were just going to level out.  But then I realized that everyone around me was all getting older at the same time. We’re all fighting it together, and we’re always going to be those kids, the first really emotionally aware generation. When I realized that, I could relax about it a little bit. And I thought that maybe I can be the guy to sing about it.

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  • Jonathan Hair

    I’m just going to assume you’ve never heard John Mayer play guitar live. John Mayer is a GREAT, I repeat, GREAT guitarist. I’m a guitarist, I know many many many good guitarists, and everyone of them, whether a fan of his or not, agree that John Mayer is a great guitarist. Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy feel the same. The measure of a guitarist’s playing is not how loud or fast or flashy his playing is. His technique is flawless, and after attending many of his concerts I can attest that he can play as fast and loud and flashy as any one. And, wait, did you not hear his cover of Bold as Love? Hmm, you must’ve skipped that one. Oooops. You’re sorely mistaken. John Mayer is a GREAT guitarist. You’re a poor writer.

  • Baronius

    I think you’re a good writer, but Jonathan’s right about Mayer’s guitar work. Check out John Mayer Trio’s live album, Try.

    I haven’t heard any of Mayer’s new album. His previous studio work hasn’t shown off his guitar skill; maybe Continuum doesn’t either. He’s clearly trying to find his own style (styles?), and if in the meantime he turns out music that sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughn playing James Taylor, well that’s not bad either.

  • http://www.iamcorrect.com Lono

    I had the first Mayer album (the big successful one, might have actually been his second) and saw him live. It was the schmaltzy years. Still, on that tour he did ‘Wind Cries Mary’ and Stevie Ray’s ‘Lenny’. He killed them both.

    A few years later I got to go see the huge Eric Clapton show in Dallas with BB King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Santana… you get the idea. Anyhow, Mayer KILLED. Mayer need never do another Clear Channel adult contemporary hit and have a great and long career. I got to see Mayer come out and sit and trade chops with BB King, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Guy on stage together. They all sat on band chairs and traded fours.

    Mysteriously, this was edited out of the ‘Crossroads’ DVD. I got to see BB King look over at Eric Clapton and say this Mayer kid is something. Got to see this with my own two eyes… the greatest guitarists alive conferrring on Mayer.

    After that show in Dallas, Buddy Guy took Mayer out on tour. Point being, John Mayer IS THAT GOOD. I have been playing guitar for 15 years and I know the shit when I see it. Mayer is the real deal. Also is super tall.

  • http://www.iamcorrect.com Lono

    to be honest, though… I don’t have this album. I can’t stand his pop radio stuff anymore, it grates on me. If it is anything like his blues self, I am down.

  • janet planet

    Hey guys, what I said about Mayer’s playing was specifically about this CD:
    “none of his hoped-for guitar greatness is apparent on this release…”

    Since you’re such big fans of his, I’m sure you’ve heard Continuum. Honestly, you’ve really got to admit there’s nothing on the recording for anyone who wants to hear some great lead guitar. I felt Mayer’s playing was constricted and he would have benefited from having another guitarist to play off of. Really, don’t you all agree?

  • Adrian

    Don’t know where your head was when you supposedly listened to ‘Continuum’, but your review reflects it’s approximate location. JM is the real deal. Try again, and get to a show, too.

  • Jonathan Hair

    I just don’t see how you don’t consider his “Bold as Love” cover great guitar playing. It sounds just like Hendrix’s, only a little cleaner. And what about the beautiful/haunting intro and solo’s in “Slow Dancing…”. There are plenty other examples of great guitar on the album. Whatever. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. You might not like his music (I do, but I understand why someone wouldn’t) but I can never understand not giving him his props as a guitarist.

  • Jack Monkey

    Ok – did this guy actually listen to the album??

    “one song fades out to the only four bar lead solo on the album”

    wtf??? Do you know what a “bar” is? There are several solos exceeding well beyond four bars and some damn fine ones at that.

    God bless blogs. I used to complain that “proper journalists” where ignorant blow-hards. It’s good to see that everyone can now get on a soapbox and convey their ignorance to the world (and somehow get picked up by Google News).

    Seriously: don’t write something critical unless you actually understand what it means. This world is filled with enough ignorance already.

  • Roger

    This is a classic album. I find your review “derivative”.

  • http://bonamassablog.us Joan Hunt

    I have to agree with Janet, here, folks. I’ve heard all Mayer’s stuff and I’ve seen him perform “live and in person”. While he does have the ability to break into some nice bluesy guitar, what I really hear is duplication of those who have obviously inspired him. The brief moments of original sound and style, they are simply too few and far between.

    If you want to hear what real guitar genius, infused with passion and soul, sounds like, check out Joe Bonamassa, Scott Holt, Albert Cummings, the Stoney Curtis Band, Dennis Jones, Zac Harmon, Tommy Castro, Shane Dwight, Corey Stevens, Kenny Neal, and Ronnie Baker Brooks, just to name a quick dozen.

    There’s nothing wrong with paying homage to one’s influences, but that’s no way to blaze a trail to awe-inspiring greatness.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Bah, Joan and Janet, you’re both crazy. Here’s the quote:
    Perhaps Mayer needs to stop thinking of himself as a great guitarist, which he is clearly not — no matter how many times his own press material touts him as such — as none of his hoped-for guitar greatness is apparent on this release.

    This is utter nonsense on several levels. Mayer is a great guitarist, one of the finest of this generation. As several people have mentioned, I’ve seen him live, and he can do it all.

    This album provides several examples as well.

    To recap: He clearly is a great guitarist, and some of that greatness is apparent on this release. That’s 0 for 2, completely inaccurate.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Lono, as you know, I was at the same show. Pick up this album — he’s finally combining his clever pop lyricism with strong guitar chops. Songs such as “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” and several others shouldn’t be missed.

    Oddly, I think his cover of “Bold As Love” is the weakest track on the album.

  • Eddy

    I aggree with the rest here, Janet hasnt a clue, i’ve also seen him live when he was in australia and i can clearly state that he is clearly a great guitarist, especially for his age and has yet to reach great height with his musical ambitions.

    Growing up and having a following in blues most my life, i must admit, Mayer is very talented, i think we should all be aspired by individuals whom, we look up to.. Even thought he cannot be compared to Stevie Ray and BB king i think in years to come he will be in that elite category.

    Personally i think his album is great, and unique
    although it should of been more blues and guitar solos, its still great and definatley grows on you, lyrics are awsome sure no-one can discount that.

    Favorites :

    03. Belief
    04. Gravity
    06. Vultures
    08. Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    This article has been placed at the Advance.net websites, a site affiliated with about 12 newspapers.

    One such site is here.

  • Jonathan

    What other artist can fully hold his own with the greats of electric blues, and then play a softer song on an acoustic with unrivaled touched, rhythm, and all other kinds of technical skill. Mayer plays all kinds of chord progressions, constructions, tunings, and riffs that modern artists just don’t know how to skillfully use when writing a song (St. Patrick’s Day, Something’s Missing, NEON, Another Kind of Green, I could go on forever). Mayer is as unique as any artist before him. He’ll be remembered as one of the most relevant artists of our generation, like it or not. And that’s final. I’m not reading this damn page or any of its comments ever again. Ugh

  • JLK

    Hey Janet, have you ever picked up a guitar ? Where do you get off hacking at John’s guitar skills ? As a player for 25 years and a blues fan I can honestly say this kid has chops, tone and talent. JM can hold his own with some of the blue world’s top cats. Not all guitar work has to be like the 80′s hair metal excess…lord knows Eddie Van Halen played a million notes and they had zero musical impact (ok, they spawned thousands of whammy bar clones playing the same finger tappin’ licks)…the intro to “Slow Dancing” is a haunting piece of music; the cover of “Bold as Love” is an accomplishment for any guitar player. JM’s ability to craft blues, R&B and folk/singer songwriter genres together and always have a strong melody is brillant ! This “kid” is going to be around for a long time. Put him in the same class as Sting…a true musical artist.

    5 stars for “Continuum”

    Oh well…ymmv

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    JLK, come on. One need not be a guitar virtuoso to judge whether someone else can play guitar or not. The widespread idea that one cannot judge what one has not done or is not personal capable of doing is just rubbish.

    John Mayer is indeed great, but it doesn’t take an ever better guitarist to recognize that.

  • Kathleen Newby

    I just want to comment on Joan saying John is copying the people that inspired him. For one, that is not considered copying. He was INSPIRED by them. Duh, thats what inspired means. He liked what they had and wanted to cause the same effect for others.
    And just on another note. EVERYTHING he does is incredible and unique and anyone that disagrees with that is living a shallow life with no meaning. Because if you can’t find meaning in his words. Than your life isn’t worth crap.

  • Sylvia Muffaleto

    “Because if you can’t find meaning in his words. Than your life isn’t worth crap.”

    If you find meaning in the words “your body is a wonderland”, then I guess your life is worth crap.

  • http://bonamassablog.us Joan Hunt

    To those who disagree with me: That’s your right. But let me tell you, I have witnessed many great guitarists and many not so great. If you go back and read my original comment, you will see that I do acknowledge Mayer’s ability to play, but I do not put him in the same strata as the artists I mentioned. I gave 12 names. And that was just for starters.

    Mayer’s made his choice to be commercially successful. He has radio play, he has the exposure. But it doesn’t mean he’s the best or even great. It simply means he’s what most people “know”.

    I know great guitar when I hear it. I know great guitar when I feel it, deep in the my soul, my heart, my gut. I’ve never had that feeling watching Mayer play and, frankly, after giving him two chances to “wow” me with a live performance, he still didn’t measure up to any of the many artists I consider “great”.

    Does this mean you can’t be impressed by him? Absolutely not. If you like his style, by all means, enjoy the hell out of it. For me, he fails to register on my radar as anyone I will ever go out of my way to see perform again.

    Phillip, you know exactly what I mean about Bonamassa. I saw your jaw hanging down in Vegas as you watched him. Put him next to Mayer and it’s no contest — Joe blows him off the stage. Every single time.

    So yeah, I’m crazy. Crazy for REAL talent and musicianship that’s not been molded and blended and tweaked to the point of being bubblegum-tongued to death.

  • Faz

    I think that maybe Janet is listening to John Mayer for the first time in her life. I wonder if she took a minute to review the 2002 release of his DVD “Any given Thursday”?

    I think that what she has failed to acknowledge that Mayer has been doing this for a very long time. Back then, he was referencing the greats like Clapton, King and Hendrix, but this album is not about proving his greatness. As a matter of fact, Mayer has been known to say that he’s trying to tone it down and allow for more emotional depth to come across between the chords rather than throwing in a million solos in between.

    If you want to watch him tear the guitar to shread, watch “Covered In Rain” on the DVD. And that is what he did touring in the summer of 2002. If you want to hear him sing, make up his own style, and throw in a reference or two then listen to “Vultres” on “Try”.

    Mayer’s been in the game for 10 years. He’s not a commercial minded artist. In Australia, people still ask who that guy is when I make mention of his name. A commercial slut would be someone like Justin Timberlake. Mayer does it with class.

    And just for those who want an insight into what kind of person Mayer is, read his blogs, and if that doesn’t do it for you, allow me to make a comparison. Hattfield cried like a bitch when money was lost on software like Napstar, Sharebear and Limewire. Coz he was all about the money. Mayer allows people to record his shows. He only asks that you leave room enough in your minds to know that yesterdays performance is different from tomorrows.

    To Janet. I know you’ve acknowledged “Continuum” as an album well worth listening to. Just because he didn’t tear it up in the studio, or leave you with guitar solos to remember, it doesn’t mean he’s incapable. He’s going somewhere different. You should be thankful that he’s humble enough to let you chill on that Sunday afternoon. Watch “Any Given Thursday” to get your thrills.

  • janet planet

    sorry for not being able to respond sooner folks, I’ve been out of town dealing with a family illness with no time to myself.

    But I do feel a need to respond to a few of the comments…

    Yes, I play guitar (and many other instruments), and have since I was 14 – though one does not have to play guitar to know what’s good. And, no, this is not the first time I’ve listened to Mayer. I think he’s a talented guy. I just think he’s allowing others to influence his music too much and I would enjoy hearing him cut loose more on his releases and show some of the flash he’s capable of.

    I expect great things from great artists and though Continuum is enjoyable to listen to – as I said – it is still derivitive and Mayer can still do much better. Are you too deaf to honestly hear how similiar “Waiting on the World to Change” is to “Get On Board?” Or have none of you ever heard that song?

    I didn’t mean to offend all you Mayer fans, I respect you all. I just want Mayer to show what he can really do.

  • Brian Grogan

    HI, gotta say dat i’ve never heard “Get On Board” but i think WOTWTC, sounds very like “Days like this”, sayin dat i still think he’s one of the best guitarists out there, he blows my mind everytime i see him on you-tube, i just think he had sumtin to say dat needed to be said, on dat song.

  • David Vidal

    john mayer should hire a true gunslinger to rock the crowd??? hes played with some greats and in my opinion, when he plays with buddy guy, he holds back as not to blast him away as that would be disrespectful. I know youve seen him live, but even that doesnt compare to the local blues shows he plays. One in 04 in particular was the most unbelievable playing ive heard. He can be as flashy as he wants in live shows, but doesnt show it off on albums (except for try). srv inspired without question, but some of his phrasing is so unique and always rythmic. did you see city love on the crossroads dvd? his was the best on the entire dvd, and I dont have to go through the list of players. Anyone can rip fast scales, but very few can encorporate rythem into their licks the way he does. Not to mention the constant switching from pick to fingers without losing a step. If youre yearning for some hot nasty solos continuum is not the place to find them, but to say john mayer is not a great guitarist is an uninformed statement. And to say that he could hire someone else to play his songs better than him is absolutely absurd, and impossible.

  • Mayfield

    His song, Waiting on the World to Change,” is a blatant rip off of Curtis Mayfield’s 1964 hit song “People Get Ready.” It’s disturbing to know that a lot of people think it’s a homage. Fruciante on Chilli Pepper’s new album gives homage to Hendrix and the rest, but he never rips the notes unlike Mayer.

  • Kill

    This Review is absolute Crap. Have you ever tried to compose a song, Janet, and put your FULL potential into it, and succeeded? Yes, almost all of these songs (on continuum) are brilliant! John Mayer is a brilliant guitarist, and still has many many many years to go before he can reach his full potential, but i assure you, when he does reach his full potential, he’ll sure show your sad ass! and Mayfield, i’d like to point out that Frusciante (*), although he has his own style, has been around a LOT longer than Mayer. John Mayer is a COMPLETELY different style to Frusciante, so stop comparing the two. John Mayer doesnt always just “rip off” other notes from his childhood idols, i’d sure as hell like you to see compose, play and sing as well as he does. John Mayer sure as hell doesnt need to hire a “gunslinger” to impress the crowd, he sure as hell can do that on his own. I, personally, am not a big fan of “Waiting On The World To Change” but dont base your review, Janet, on that one song. He dropped out of his music college because he’d rather PLAY music and get out there and live his dream rather than study it. He’s no Jimi Hendrix, obviously, not yet anyway, but he sure as hell will be. John Mayer is a brilliant guitarist.

  • elizabeth

    he rocks ive heard him hes awsome iam a piano player and a guitar player and i love his music my favorites are clarity,slow dancing in a buring room ,dreaming with a broken heart ,ect