Thursday, October 29, 2009

Album Review: John Mayer - Continuum (2006, 5/5)

In three weeks acoustic-pop singer, John Mayer will release his fourth album, Battle Studies, it's the follow up to his third album Continuum, one of the best albums of the decade and the album that made me fall in love with his music. Like his acoustic-pop contemporaries, such as Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz and Colbie Calliat his sound is mostly built around strings, drums and piano and when composed right can create something truly spectacular, and that's exactly what Continuum, managed to do so effortlessly and flawlessly--capitalizing on the winning blend of acoustic-pop and soul sound his first two albums, Room for Squares and his breakthrough, Heavier Things introduced.

The album opens strongly with lead single "Waiting On the World to Change," a rejoyceful composition with light-hearted bells ringing through, quirky electronic guitar strings and consistent drums. It carries a nice happy ambiance, whereas second track, "I Don't Trust Myself, (With Loving You)" is darker, mellow and raw, pacing with drums and strings, depicting a feeling of exclusion and emptiness.

One of my favorite tracks is "Dreaming with a Broken Heart," a beautiful piano ridden ballad--embodying an angelic feel at the beginning where piano keys runs its course as Mayer's raspy vocals emotionally indulges in nostalgic endeavors. Soon, the scene slowly gets more compelling as the piano keys evolve into cords and drums and percussion kick in for the second verse. There's a Coldplay-ish instrumental with just the piano keys for a couple seconds in preparation for the bridge in which Mayer belts: "Do I have to fall asleep, with roses in my hair," before playing out softly with the opening lines and piano keys.

"I'm Gonna Find Another You," is another favorite. It's has a distinctive old Motown ambiance--starting out with an old-school like guitar cords, before the horns and drums kick and the guitar becomes more sharp. "Gravity," acquires pretty much the same configuration, maybe a bit slower and sharper vocals, cutting from the same vein as the Heavier Things sound.

Layered vocals are used to emphasize the subtlety in "The Heart of Life," it's indeed the albums most subtle moment and the instrumental break is definitely something that wouldn't sound out of place on a Nora Jones album, particularly, Come Away with Me. The combination of strings and the angelic almost inaudible piano keys are very subdued adding to the subtlety. Melodic, "Vultures," indulges in old-school funk, as it jams with the bass guitar, pulsing with consistent drums and Mayer's soothing vocal which goes through different vocal variations, notably the sharp changes between the lower and high register. More Nora Jones influences are heard in "Stop This Train," a rapid but subdued string and drum affair, it's the albums least impressive track, although I still do like it a lot.

A more traditional acoustic-pop sound can be heard on "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," a swooning romantic ballad with strings, drums and tambourines. The confident "Bold As Love," is probably the albums most bold track as the title implies, finding Mayer using his full register--raspy vocals intact. "In Repair," is a melodic, string and drum affair--not as compelling as some of the other tracks, although still pretty good even with the changing soundscapes.

Continuum, is a brilliant album, definitely acoustic-pop at its best and definitely among the best albums of the decade. I'm eager to find out how well Mayer's forthcoming album, Battle Studies, will fair. Lead single "Who Says," already shows signs of a new direction in music.

Best: Dreaming with a Broken Heart, Waiting On the World to Change, I'm Gonna Find Another You, Slow Dancing In a Burning Room, The Heart of Life, I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You), Bold As Love, Gravity, In Repair, Vultures

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