25 October 2006

MUSIC REVIEW: John Mayer "Continuum"

MUSIC REVIEW: John Mayer "Continuum"
October 24, 2006 05:42 PM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

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 60-70's 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 ala Morrison, the addition of an acoustic piano player ala Leon Russell, or the collaboration with African and other World music artists ala 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 2 bar solos on a few cuts - and one song fades out to the only 4 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 a great guitarist – 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."

Mayer might need to get a better perspective on life as all generations have said the same things about their own generations. Mayer, at 29, and his generation, was raised on Sesame Street and it's short segments and commercials for letters and numbers… the model for MTV programming. Perhaps the choppy 2-bar-only guitar-leads on Continuum reflect that life experience. That the young feel invincible is something that crosses all generational lines, and any good songwriter should be cognizant of that fact as it would only serve to make their work stronger… well that, and working on their guitar chops.

Though this release is pleasant enough to listen to – and you will definitely be tapping your foot to many of the songs - it's nothing groundbreaking, and nothing we haven't heard before from much more talented artists.


Digital Dogs Rating: a solid B. Something relaxing and meditative to listen to while stuck in traffic or at the dinner table.

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© 2006 by Digital Dogs



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