Album Review: John Mayer, “Heavier Things” (2003)

In 2003, John Mayer released the follow up to his platinum selling debut, Room For Squares. I was anticipating the release of Heavier Things– after all he hadn’t released any new material for almost two years.

I was a bit surprised to hear the first single, Bigger Than My Body, for the first time. The sound was a lot different from the songs on Room (more on that later, though), and I guess you can say I was even a bit skeptical about buying Heavier Things, after hearing the song.

But then again, this was Mayer, and even if he had changed his sound a little bit, he still was an amazing singer-songwriter.

Heavier Things does have a bit of a different sound than his first album, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The songs are wonderful, and the lyrics, as I expected, are innovative and unique. His voice still sounds great. And I might even go far enough to say that I like this album better than Room For Squares, which is saying a lot, since I love that album.

Clarity is a good example of the difference between the songs on Heavier Things and Room For Squares. On Room, John’s songs are basically composed of his voice and his guitar- very simple and almost acoustic sounding (with the exception of “3X5”). The songs on this album, like Clarity, are a lot more polished. There are trumpets in a few songs, synthesizers in a few, and more electric guitar, which we didn’t really hear in Room. It’s a change you might have to get used to, but in the long run, the songs are great.

Anyway, this song starts off with some loud trumpets, which makes the song a lot of fun to listen to. In the song, John’s pretty pessimistic; thinking things are going too good (“By the time I recognize this moment/This moment will be gone/But I will bend the light pretending/That it somehow lingered on”), and that they just can’t last for long. One of my favourite tracks, and a great way to start off the album.

As I mentioned, Bigger Than My Body was the first single off the album. Electric guitar is used a lot in this song, which adds a great touch to the track. Even though I wasn’t used to hearing his music sound so polished, I liked this song from the start. The encouraging lyrics are really good (“But I’ll gladly go down in a flame/If a flame’s what it takes to remember my name”) and I think most people could relate to them.

The tempo slows down a bit for Something’s Missing and gives off an appropriately melancholy mood. It took me a while to like this one. On the first few listens, the song didn’t really stand out. It’s kind of boring musically, so I didn’t listen to this one much. After a week or two, I started to pay better attention to the lyrics and liked it more. Mayer sings about having everything in life that’s supposed to make you happy, but still feeling empty inside (“How come everything I think I need/Always comes with batteries?”).

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I’ve found that most people don’t like New Deep, but I think it’s all right. I have to admit that the lyrics are a bit of a downer at times, which is ironic, because the song trying to be uplifting in a sarcastic sort of way. Mayer’s being a smart aleck here, asking questions like, “Is there a God?/Why is he waiting?/Don’t you think of it odd/When he knows my address?” The liner notes (more on those later) categorize Come Back To Bed as a ballad, and I guess it is. It was also released as a single, and again, it’s the trumpets that really make the song to me. The lyrics aren’t anything special, but the song is still worth listening to, since Mayer sounds wonderful.

Home Life is absolutely one of my favourite songs on the album- it’s probably one of my favourite John Mayer songs, period. On this track, Mayer sings about wanting to settle down and have a typical “home life”. All the lyrics are extremely clever, and the first time I heard this song I remember laughing three or four times. The song has an 80’s sound to it that I like- probably due to the keyboards and synthesizers.  Only Heart is definitely 80’s. It’s almost something that Phil Collins or Genesis would sing. OK…maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, because the song isn’t corny or “poppy” enough to be by Phil Collins or Genesis, but even Mayer describes it as being “retro” in the liner notes. There’s more electric guitar here, and a solo towards the end, which is pretty cool. I like this song. It’s fun, and great to sing and dance along with. It’s also a good placement after such a heavy song as Daughters.

Split Screen Sadness
starts off with some soft percussion, and has a mellow vibe to it, which works well after the upbeat Home Life. This is another one of my favourites. Here, Mayer and his girlfriend have split and he’s trying to persuade her to come back. The song has some really sweet lyrics (“So I’ll check the weather wherever you are/’Cause I wanna know if you can see the stars tonight/It might be my only right”), and Mayer comes off as being very vulnerable and romantic here, which made me (and I’m sure the rest of the ladies that have heard this song) say “awww!”. During the chorus, the tempo picks up, and the music is accompanied by some violins, which gives this song a sort of dramatic/theatrical feel to it that works well.

Daughters
is the only “stripped down” song on the album- the whole song consists of some simple guitar work done by Mayer and some percussion. This is also a track that most people don’t like, but this is yet another one of my favourites. Daughters sounds a lot like something Billy Joel would sing, and since I love Billy Joel, that’s a good thing for me. The lyrics are very bittersweet, and heartfelt, and I think the song is just amazing.

The album ends with Wheel- another song that took me a while to like. It seems to drag on a bit at times, but in the end it was the thoughtful lyrics that won me over. The song’s about how people mature and move on; how we all go through different stages in life- which is why the wheel analogy makes sense. The song is very subdued, but it’s a good end to the album. Mayer also sings the last line of the song a cappella (“I believe/That my life’s gonna see/The love I give/Returned to me”), which is nice.

This the first time for me to review liner notes, ’cause usually they aren’t all that interesting anyway. Of course, Mayer has to go and do something totally original and unique, so here I am reviewing liner notes. As everyone else has mentioned, instead of just the typical lyrics and thank-you’s Mayer has included color-coded graphs that tell some interesting facts about the songs.

Things I learned from the graphs: Bigger Than My Body and Wheel both contain guitar solos, while Clarity and New Deep are both described as being “quizzical”. Daughters was written in New Zealand. Only Heart is the shortest song on the album, at 3:49. Come Back To Bed is at the lowest tempo. Home Life‘s suggested target points are your shoulders….etc.  There’s plenty of other nifty facts, too.

All in all, Heavier Thing is an amazing release from John Mayer.  The album is filled with beautiful songs, clever lyrics, and fantastic guitar and vocal work from Mr. Mayer.  This album has only solidified my love for him.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track List
1. Clarity
2. Bigger Than My Body
3. Something’s Missing
4. New Deep
5. Come Back to Bed
6. Home Life
7. Split Screen Sadness
8. Daughters
9. Only Heart
10. Wheel

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZLbUIa7exE]

*This is a brittpinkie “classic” review. I have edited this review for content and formatting, though retained my original opinion of the product.

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