s insolent as he is self-effacing, as coolly talented as he is blissfully detached, John Mayer is the sheepishly handsome Connecticut suburbanite who peddled toned-down SRV love letters into middle-of-the-dial riches—he’s the guy next door who’s sold more records than Kanye West, T.I., and ex-bedmate Jessica Simpson. He’s as instant and coolly affirming as an upbeat AIM dialogue, as cuddly helpless as an out-of-state freshman, as socially astute as a kid who just read Hemingway for the first time. And he plays guitar.
His debut, the acoustic, morning-after-graduation tender Room For Squares made yearbook and backyard pontifications—“I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world!” “No filter in my head / Oh, what's a boy to do!”—the lingua franca of the New England cul-de-sac. And he was right. He got sweet juvenile shallowness note perfect. And the mid-tempo, languid frets. And the big Steely Dan whammy bar plateaus.
And on Continuum, his fourth full length (though he’ll try and tell you that Try! the album recorded with steady jazzmen doesn’t really count since that was his artistic divergence with the John Mayer Trio), he calmly circles the same career themes with the same warmed-over, palatable guitar weavings: girls are scary, girls are sad, getting older is weird, home is nice.
Which is not to say that those are bad or even vacant themes. If you only take snippets of his lyrics on Continuum, he almost looks likes a bard of the burbs, an articulator of hushed, middle-class emotions— “All these vultures outside my door / They’ve never been this long without a kill before” (“Vultures”) “Stop this train / I wanna get off and go home again.” (“Stop This Train”). Sometimes he even gets close to lyricism: “Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hair?” But just as quickly as he approaches some songwriting evolution, he crawls back toward glib, Dave Matthews-level concern: “Too many hours in this midnight / Too many corners in my mind” or “I’m gonna do some things / You wouldn’t let me do.”
Musically, at least, you know what you’re getting on Continuum: even though the album enlists trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Try!’s drummer Steven Jordan, and all sorts of other impressive musicians, Mayer sticks to winding guitar ballads, predictable chromatics, and effective grade-school composition (the snares on “Stop This Train” match the clip-clop of a train, get it?). Even in moments where he might shed some power-chord joy (“No Such Thing” from Squares, “Clarity” from Heavier Things) Mayer just chirps away at how bored his generation is —“Waiting On The World To Change” both revels in it and is repulsed by it: “The world and those who lead it / We just feel like we don't have the means / To rise above and beat it.”
The decidedly non-pop heads he strung along with Try! won’t like Continuum—Mayer himself has labeled it the third part of his “trilogy”—and the kids who clutched Room for Squares and Heavier Things to their chests during freshman orientation are probably (hopefully?) knee deep in other records right now. Luckily for Mayer, and Continuum, there’s a whole new crop of nervous, naïve boys and girls, emerging from the burbs—ready for another orientation. Mayer gets older, they stay the same age.