As someone whose first John Mayer experience came from his live shows instead of the radio or buying his albums, I’ve always kind of felt that his albums fail to catch the emotion and rawness that the live show encapsulates. While the albums retain the base of the riffs that make up the albums, the overly polished sound and lack of runs on the guitar is usually what turns me off from his albums.
I have the same issue with Continuum, his third album, though it is probably my favorite of his discography – if we aren’t counting the John Mayer Trio live album. There are plenty of good things to be found with a bit of bad, but none of the great moments that his live shows contain.
Continuum seemed to be the album where Mayer decided to expand beyond the pop adult alternative track that his previous two albums followed. With songs like “Waiting on the World to Change,” “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You),” and the good pairing of “Belief” and “Gravity,” there are hints of the bluesy atmosphere that drives his shows.
A few of those songs are great and are some of the better tracks found in his discography, though that run stops cold with “The Heart of Life,” which falls into the same rut that Mayer followed early in his career: by-the-numbers pop rock that does little to venture outside the realm of top-40 pop. You could put the seventh track, “Stop This Train,” in the same category.
Luckily, the two songs that sandwich “Stop This Train” are fantastic. “Vultures” is my favorite John Mayer song, largely due to the riff that drives the song. While the recorded version doesn’t live up to the live version, usually driven by long solos showing Mayer’s true prowess, it does perhaps come closest to what you get at a show. The same goes to “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” where he finally finds the right combination of the elements of slow pop rock love songs and bluesy riffs that he seems to always attempt to create.
Another definite favorite is the faithful rendition of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Bold As Love,” which features some not-so-surprisingly advanced guitar playing and emotional vocal delivery. If Mayer did a full album of Hendrix covers, I don’t think I would complain. As a matter of fact, I’d probably like it more than a regular Mayer album.
Unfortunately, it is followed by two of the weaker songs on the album. “Dreaming With A Broken Heart” is a piano-led track that bores to tears, and “In Repair,” while featuring a fantastic solo, just doesn’t have a good enough hook to hold your attention for the six-minute track length. Luckily the album ends on a nice note, with the somber “I’m Gonna Find Another You,” which is a perfect album ender. Much like “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” this track meshes the pop elements with the bluesy elements of Mayer perfectly.
While Continuum is more bearable than Mayer’s other records and comes closest to his live show, there still aren’t enough fantastic moments to make this a great, or even good, album. The fantastic moments, while truly great, are unfortunately spread too far apart.