On 2001’s mega-successful Room For Squares, John Mayer discovered that there’s “no such thing as the real world” after high school. On his follow-up, Mayer seems to be letting us know that the phony-baloney world of show biz ain’t all it’s cracked up to be either.
On “Something’s Missing,” Mayer wonders how you can know if your friends are really your friends: “I can’t be sure that this state of mind / Is not of my own design / I wish there was an over-the-counter test / For loneliness like this.” It sounds like life on the road may be getting to him on the Asian-tinged “Home Life.” “I am not a nomad / I am not a rocket man / I was born a housecat,” he sings. And on the up-tempo, falsetto-chorused first single “Bigger Than My Body” he asks, “Why is it not my time? / What is there more to learn?”
Throughout, Mayer accompanies these sentiments with smooth grooves that as usual owe a debt to Sting and Dave Matthews. Producer-Engineer Jack Joseph Puig (Jellyfish, Sheryl Crow, No Doubt) gives the whole affair a pop-jazz sheen that doesn’t exactly leap out of the stereo but doesn’t necessarily make you want to run screaming from the room either.
Mayer’s accomplished guitar playing is de-emphasized somewhat on this record in favor of showcasing the songwriting. As the album title indicates, the lyrical subject matter is a bit more adult, which may be a disappointment to the screaming girls who latched onto Mayer’s frothy Grammy-winning hit “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” But it may help ensure his career longevity.
“Numb is the new deep / Down with the old me,” he proclaims on one track. A breakup haunts “Split Screen Sadness”: “All you need is love is a lie / Cause we had love but we still said goodbye.” Unfortunately, this new maturity also produces the treacly, acoustic jazz-y “Daughters” and lines like “Fathers, be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do / Girls become lovers who turn into mothers / So mothers, be good to your daughters too.” He wraps things up nicely, though, with the optimistic outlook of the ballad “Wheel”: “I believe that my life’s gonna see / The love I give returned to me.”
One worries however – that Mayer may have grown up too fast. Heavier Things is the kind of effortless, innocuous, slick slab of product that Sting waited until late middle age to produce. But the liner notes indicate that at least Mayer doesn’t take all of this too seriously. In addition to the usual list of musicians who play on each track, the booklet offers a funny guide to key emotions in each song among other helpful graphs. It’s a disarming touch that makes Heavier Things a little less heavy and a little more real.