Stepping Up, from Pop to Blues
On Continuum (12 September, 2006; Colombia Records) John Mayer sought to draw on the spirit of Hendrix, Clapton and BB King to give his music a blues edge that had been lacking on his previous two offerings: Room for Squares (2001) and Heavier Things (2003). The gamble paid off as Continuum sold more than either of his previous blockbusters, won him a Grammy, and spawned no less than five hit singles.
It is worth remembering that the context of this release in 2006 was out-and-out hugely successful pop. On May 21 Madonna began her Confessions Tour in Los Angeles, with tickets selling out within minutes in Europe, North America and Asia; making it the highest-grossing tour in history by a female artist. On September 12 Justin Timberlake released his second album FutureSex/LoveSounds that, among other milestones, produced no less than three consecutive number-one singles on the US Billboard Hot 100. Oh, and a 16 year-old called Taylor Swift dropped her self-titled debut album that year... In other words, in a year in which pop stars were making giant commercial strides, Mayer made his own statement by making it big with a blues-oriented album.
Recorded in Los Angeles, Memphis and New York City, hugely respected bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan (who co-produced Continuum with Mayer) lent their experience, as well as guitarists Ben Harper, Charlie Hunter and James Valentine (from Maroon 5), bassist Willie Weeks and jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove. The result is a shift in Mayer's musical style, largely towards the blues, but also because of the soul and R&B elements he introduces.
Waiting On The World To Change was Continuum’s first single release on July 11, 2006. On one live version at LA’s Nokia Theatre Mayer can be seen playing a Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop Strat, which is appropriate as he later competently covers Bold as Love; his first ever Hendrix-cover studio recording.
Mayer however swaps his Pop Strat for his 2004 signature ‘Black one’ on I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You (at least for his live performances on the accompanying tour).
The two next single releases Belief and Gravity follow, with the latter becoming a staple of his live act. Many of Mayer’s songs inevitably deal with heartbreak and difficult relationships – listen to, for example, Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, The Heart of Life, Dreaming With a Broken Heart and I’m Gonna Find Another You - but on Gravity he reflects on how his life is turning out. As the song draws to a close Mayer pleads to “Just keep me where the light is”; in a reminder to himself to try and stay strong, calm and positive when things get tough. Further self- reflection can be found on Stop This Train, where he admits that he is “So scared of getting older,” because “I’m only good at being young.”
Continuum represented a step up in Mayer’s artistic development and gained him a wider audience as he both confirmed his guitar chops and his blues credentials. As he shifted from slightly sugary ballads like Daughters and Your Body Is A Wonderland to numbers like In Repair on this album, he also showed more depth as a person. “I’m never really ready…” he sings on the latter, “I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”