John Mayer

If the aw-shucks golden-boy image and seemingly idealistic folk-pop were where it ended, he'd be as easy to ignore as Hootie for mediocrity alone. But John Mayer's massive hit album Room for Squares bears the unmistakable scent of something sinister. For one thing, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter is smarmier than Ja Rule. Take "Your Body Is a Wonderland." The tune's Gap-feminist sensuality, like all the tepidly chivalrous love songs on the album, is an obvious scheme to get laid: "Discover me discovering you / One mile to every inch of your skin like porcelain," sings Mayer in that expositively intimate hush.

Worse yet than mere lechery, Mayer's message is harmful to the development of character. His hit single, the annoyingly verbose "No Such Thing," purports that high school seniors hold the key to life and that only a crusty stick-in-the-mud would tell them otherwise. But that's exactly what makes Mayer's music fluffy: It tries to make up through unfledged confidence what it lacks in soul and experience. Admittedly, Mayer can play a guitar and work up a funk-lite sweat more tunefully than most jam bands, but can he gain the sense of humility that makes good singer-songwriters empathic rather than self-absorbed? His pop-pundit appearance on VH1, snottily espousing the "harmlessness" of the Proclaimers -- an act with 50 times his substance -- suggests otherwise.

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Andrew Marcus