"Continuum," the new album by John Mayer, is definitely his blackest solo album yet. There is a strong rhythm & blues current running through these songs. While the same thematic elements that launched his career are here - tangled love affairs, a reluctant acceptance of adulthood, neuroses and nostalgia - this is a stripped, pared-down disc that presents him at his best. Obviously, I love it.
I missed his blues moment a couple years ago, but the guitar licks, relaxed pace, and easy tempo of the album demonstrate that sensibility. He's working his falsetto a lot more, layering his vocals more often. Listening to the album, I could hear traces of James Taylor, D'Angelo, Jimmy Buffett, and (excuse me, but it's true) Justin Timberlake. Others can hear Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye in there, and that's great, but there are a few transcendant moments when he is right up there with the some of the best of today's R&B: the aforementioned D'Angelo, as well as Van Hunt. Seriously. If his last solo project, "Heavier Things," went a little heavy on the production, with horns and synthesizers and studio tricks aplenty, this album seems quieter, more mellow, more simple. One could imagine hearing a band run through it on a tiny club stage, and it would sound mostly the same.
The come hither song, "I can't trust myself (with loving you)" made me move the way I only do when I'm trying to seduce someone. On other tracks ("Vultures," "Belief") I was singing the chorus and trying to blacken it up a bit with some ad libs and some soul. "Heart of life" presents a simple and optimistic ditty that reminded me of James Taylor at his catchiest and most uplifting - this is a song I would teach my child to sing. There is a suite of bluesy ballads kissing off an unfortunate ex-lover (notably "I'm gonna find another you") that reveals his musical and vocal chops. Of course, I can't stand the current single "Waiting for the world to change," which I find annoying and preachy. But it's all uphill from there.
He continues his fight against growing up with "Stop this train," which is a great and ultimately touching song, relaying a dialogue between him and his father. He has made such a niche for himself with these quarter life crisis anthems ("Why Georgia," "No such thing," "Clarity" (the namesake of this blog) and others). I love them, believe me, and I plan my fits of weeping and journaling around them, but is this going to make sense when he's playing Wolf Trap in thirty years? Will we remember what the hell he's singing about?
As always, his lyrics are intelligent and warm and clever. Although John Mayer kind of seems cocky and sometimes obnoxious, and has let his hair grow to an unfortunate length, he can still deliver the goods. This is a CD to wallow in. I can't wait to learn the words. Hearing the album on the bus from DC for the first time, I was struck by how much it had won me over with just one listen. This is a strong, unified work, and I'm happy for Mr. Mayer, and I'm happy that I have received another dose of his music. For the last few years he has granted me a partial soundtrack to my young adulthood, and I am just thankful that my life is in rough parallel to his (in a way).
This is a beautiful album, and you should hear it.