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Mayer's 'Heavier Things': likably lightweight

Alot of guys start playing guitar to get girls, but no one's as obvious about it as John Mayer.

He's an outstanding guitar player, though there's scant evidence of that on his albums. There's just no room for fiery solos on Mayer's soft-focus seduction pieces, aimed at loosening the inhibitions of post-Justin college girls - kind of like beer, but without the morning-after headache.

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His crooning voice and blurry-edged ballads combine to convey a single straightforward message: "I love you, and I'll always respect you because I'm sensitive, and your body is a wonderland. Is that shirt chafing you?"

Hey, great, it's working for the guy. Mayer's 2001 album, Room for Squares, has sold more than 3 million copies and won him a Grammy this year for male pop vocal performance on the tune "Your Body Is a Wonderland." His new record, Heavier Things, is certain to at least equal the success of its predecessor.

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And why not - the concept is more or less the same. Heavier Things emphasizes Mayer's soothing vocals on nondescript, slightly pudgy songs that don't sound all that different from the stuff on Room for Squares, except for a mild R&B; tint here and there. He adds funky horns to the mix on a few tracks, but the songs mostly comprise standard adult-contemporary touches: inoffensive guitars, agreeable melodies, accessible lyrics.

The latter is where the musician shows the most growth - his lyrics, which occupy the same thematic ground as before, but with greater intelligence. They're also less drippy than on the previous album, though Mayer's subject matter is still swoon-friendly daydream material.

He's the bumbling guy who can't figure out how he offended on "Come Back to Bed," a low-key, bluesy tune. He's the stay-home-and-cuddle type on "Home Life," where he insists he will "marry just once." He takes responsibility for botching a relationship on "Split Screen Sadness," which features one of the better melodic hooks on the album. He's so responsible, so romantic, so tousled - what's not to like?

Well, the self-consciousness, for one thing. It's as if Mayer is trying too hard to show he's a Serious Musician. Even the title of the record, Heavier Things, implies the 25-year-old singer and songwriter is addressing weighty subjects. He's not, but so what? Mayer has created a lucrative and rewarding pop niche for himself, where his new releases all but guarantee him heavy radio rotation, a platinum plaque and, by association, throngs of delirious fans at his concerts.

Heavier Things won't earn Mayer a seat at the roundtable of brilliant singer-songwriters, but most of those folks are dead or dirt-poor, and Mayer is neither. And with his good looks and radio hooks, he'll get the girls, too.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing Co. newspaper.

John Mayer

Heavier Things (Columbia) ** 1/2


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