Mayer stretches himself
John Mayer - Continuum
Review by John HalversonI never thought I'd compare John Mayer to Van Morrison. But on at least two songs on Continuum, Mayer's new CD, he brings the Van sound of the mid-70s back to life--soulful horns, the beat going from understated to an emotional crescendo, a bluesy guitar and even a voice similar to Van's back in the day when the master could still reach a falsetto. The comparison seems especially apt for the bookends of the album, the opening "I'm Gonna Find Another You" and the closing "Waiting for the World Change."
In "I'm Going to Find Another You," Mayer starts slow dancing, then the horns slide alongside the lyrics as Mayer builds, and then he ends with a knockout punch. "Waiting for the World to Change" opens with chords that are nearly duplicates of Morrison's "Tupelo Honey." But while Mayer seems reminiscent of Van in this cut, it doesn't seem like copying as much as capturing the same spirit of early Van. Never short of clever lyrics, in Continuum Mayer has expanded beyond the mournful James Taylor-like words of early incarnations. For instance, the political "Waiting for the World to Change" has all the flavor of an old anti-war song, only this time the war is fought in the desserts of Iraq instead of rain forests of Viet Nam.
"Now, if I had the power to bring our neighbors home from war They would have never missed a Christmas No more ribbons on the door And when you trust your television What you get is what you got Cause when they own the information They can bend it all they want"
But the power and the poignant doesn't stop with these songs. Continuum is much more varied, more ambitious than I had heard from Mayer before. "The Heart of Life" has a soft, almost angelic feel to it. "Vultures" has the jazzy intensity of Steel Dan, especially in the opening cords. "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," gets the award for the best title and has the raw twang of early rock 'n roll without the naivete'.
The labelers call Continuum a blues album. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but Mayer's balladeer voice and his orchestration, if not his lyrics, sound a lot less reedy and more full and varied than the John Mayer I'd heard before. It's not by accident; according to a quote he gave Rolling Stone. "The first record, (is to) get 'em in," he said. The second record, make 'em think. The third record, crush 'em."
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