John Mayer's "Continuum" album was incredibly popular, won a Grammy and got named the 11th best album of 2006 by the Rolling Stone magazine – and for a good reason. It's a fantastic album that mixes all its main ingredients well and uses exactly the right measurements: It's produced but features a real band playing real instruments; it's a soul record but yet, exhibits a pop sensitivity; the vocals are strong but not overly dramatic; and the arrangements are adventurous but simple enough for the record to resonate with the casual listener. And what is true for the album is also true for its opening track and most successful single "Waiting On The World To Change."
The bells, the organ, the swinging drums and the Memphis-style guitar licks make "Waiting On The World To Change" timeless music. In fact, when you are listening to both the song as well as its lyrics, your mind is fooled into thinking that you’ve just discovered a long-lost soul outtake from the late sixties or early seventies by Marvin Gaye.
Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There's no way we ever could
Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it
However, it’s not just the lyrics that bear resemblance to Gaye, it’s also the music. This song would not have seemed out of place on Gaye’s superb “What’s Going On” album from 1971 (it even has a jazz-fusion-flavored instrumental break with an awesome horn-section that adds icing on an already sweet slice of cake). Other musical moments of brilliance on “Continuum” are the arrangement on the mid-tempo “Belief” (check out the interplay between the bass, guitar and drums), the Rhodes piano on “Vultures,” the guitar intro on “The Heart Of Life” and “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room,” and of course the incredibly beautiful, gospel-like background harmonies on “Gravity.”
Where lyrics are concerned, it’s interesting that prior to "Waiting On The World To Change," Mayer hadn’t really tackled politics in his lyrics – certainly not to the extent of wanting to “bring our neighbors home from war” and marking that “one day our generation is going to rule the population.” That being said, the best couplets on the album can be found in such songs as “I Don’t Trust Myself” (“I will beg my way into your garden; I will break my way out when it rains”), “Dreaming With A Broken Heart” ("When you are dreaming with a broken heart; the waking up is the hardest part”) and “Stop This Train” that has one of my all-time favorite lines, “So scared of getting older; I’m only good at being young.”
However, putting more emphasis on his lyrics wasn’t the only change Mayer made in terms of artistic direction when he began working on “Continuum.” With this album Mayer was no longer satisfied being just a singer-songwriter. He decided to take on the role of co-producer as well – excellent choice. Another excellent choice was to enroll just the right guy as his collaborator in the studio, Steve Jordan. Jordan was known for his work with such legends as Keith Richards, Chuck Berry and Stevie Wonder – not surprising then that "Continuum" is a lot more blues and soul oriented album than Mayer's work preceding it. Having said that, it is John Mayer who shines throughout the album with his vocals, guitar playing and his songwriting skills. I dare say, everything on this album is so good that by the time you are listening to the amazing "Gravity," you are afraid to listen on, scared that the spell will break and the next song will bring the album down a peg or two; however, this never happens, the spell never breaks. Instead, it intensifies. In fact, the last song on the album, the Otis-Redding flavored "I'm Gonna Find Another You" is one its most brilliant cuts – not bad for a guy who was pumping gas at a filling station after high-school.
Speaking of high school, the lyrical naiveté of "Waiting On The World To Change" brings up a memory from my teenage years. Unlike a lot of the sixties protest songs I was listening to back in the 1980s, this Mayer cut isn’t actually encouraging people to actively do anything to change things; it’s asking them to wait for better times, which sometimes works and most times doesn’t – obviously. In any case, listening to this track the other day made me think of a discussion I had with my grandmother some thirty years ago. I had somehow gotten it into my head that if people only refuse to become cynical and decide to have faith in the good of man, then there’s no limit to what we can achieve by only believing and waiting – I felt there was no need for war or conflict of any kind. I told her this after she criticized a Dylan tune I was listening to by saying that Bob should stop whining and actually serve his country. Having lived through the horrors of the Second World War, she looked at me skeptically and said, “I prefer action. I don’t care much for waiting and believing, dear.” “Why not,” I asked? “Well,” she responded, “I’ve been waiting and believing for about a week now that you’ll clean up your room like you promised but so far, it hasn’t gotten me anywhere, has it?” I must have looked dumbfounded because she walked over smilingly, gave me a kiss, took my head gently in her hands and said tenderly, “There’s nothing wrong with faith. It can move mountains. But why don’t we start with your room today. We’ll worry about world peace later.” Man, I miss her – even though she would have probably said the same thing about Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change” as she said about Dylan’s “Masters Of War.”
Check out the official music video of “Waiting On The World To Change.”
In addition, check out this very exciting live performance of the song.
And finally, one of my favorite cuts on Mayer’s latest album, “In The Blood.”
You can learn more about John Mayer here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.