When singer-songwriter and pop hearthrob John Mayer took a left turn last year to immerse himself in a blues project it looked like a lark and a risk. He had something to get out of his system, or wanted to prove his technical mettle, or maybe he felt compelled to expand his musical horizons, damn the career consequences.
It turns out Mayer was doing all those things, and the consequences are anything but dire. ``Continuum," in stores today, is a creative leap for Mayer. He's seamlessly integrated the catchy, laid-back songcraft that endeared him to a global fan base of mothers and daughters with serious guitar chops, a reverence for classic soul music, and lyrics that suggest the 28-year-old musician has lived and lost and cogitated a good deal in the five years since penning ``Your Body Is a Wonderland."
The album's first single, ``Waiting on the World to Change," is an anti war anthem that turns the typical call to action inside out, instead meditating on a generation's passivity over a melody indebted to Curtis Mayfield's evergreen civil rights anthem ``People Get Ready." Continuum, indeed. Mayer strikes eloquently at the heart of the world's troubles on ``Belief," a coiled, jazzy gem built on six hypnotic guitar notes that asserts ``we're never gonna beat this /if belief is what we're fighting for."
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Mayer's love songs have evolved from breezily adolescent to elegant and dark. ``I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)," ``Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," and ``Dreaming with a Broken Heart" are as lithe and lovely, one imagines, as the girl who's gone. We learn near the album's end that Mayer is ``In Repair," and it's a fruitful place for him to be. ``Stop This Train," the folk-inflected centerpiece of the album, is one of several tracks that grapple with aging. And if that sounds like a pretentious concern for an artist who hasn't yet hit 30, the song's poignant father-son exchange will persuade you otherwise.
Self-produced and recorded with drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino, ``Continuum" is lean, buffed, and consummately poised. The mood never strays far from Adult Alternative, and that's the disc's one disappointment. There's much talent here, but precious little free spirit. Why doesn't the guitar whiz cut loose on ``Gravity," a ballad that's ripe for a scorching solo? ``Bold as Love," a Jimi Hendrix cover, elicits the most animated performance. Chilling as Mayer finds the passage of time, here's hoping it arms him with the courage to embrace his own music with such vigor.