Room for Squares
First Appeared at The Music Box, April 2002, Volume 9, #4
Written by T.J. Simon
Perhaps this happened to you: While driving down the road listening to your favorite Adult Album Alternative radio station, a song comes on the air that instantly grabs your attention. You turn up the volume because this is a really, really great song — one that you’ve never heard before. You wait for the DJ to tell you who sings it, but that moment never comes because you are trapped in a 45-minute rock block. So, you detour to your local record store, run up to the clerk, and sing, "I wanna run through the halls of my high school/I wanna scream at the top of my lungs/I wanna da-da-da-da-la-la-la-la-la...." But the kid behind the counter wearing the Korn t-shirt can only stare blankly at you while slowly shaking his head. In this particular case, the elusive song is No Such Thing, the first single from John Mayer’s major-label debut Room for Squares, and believe me, the tune is that damn good. In fact, the whole album is that damn good.
For those yet to discover Mayer, he is a 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Connecticut (currently based in Atlanta) whose debut album title is a playful jab at Hank Mobley’s 1963 classic jazz record No Room for Squares. Mayer is that rare artist with natural abilities of both a master wordsmith and a tunesmith. His music isn’t jazz, yet it can be downright jazzy. Its doesn’t fit the dance genre, but you won’t be able to avoid shaking your booty around your living room when you hear the song Neon.
Unlike many great albums that often require multiple listens, Room for Squares grabs the listener right from the get-go with the aforementioned No Such Thing. In 83, Mayer gets melancholy for the good old days (and he means 1983 — feel old?), and on the Sting-inspired City Love, he explores urban romance over a bed of violins, cellos, and organs. The album concludes with the beautiful, seasonal St. Patrick’s Day in which winter is passed by hunkering down with a lover who will hopefully last until the coming of spring.
Indeed, Room for Squares is a delightful, if delicately-layered, collection of mostly mellow acoustic guitar-based rock expertly produced by John Alagia, whose previous work includes albums by Dave Matthews and Ben Folds. As such, Alagia makes Mayers’ voice go down smooth — think Sting meets Seal meets Eric Matthews — thereby belying the cleverness in Mayers’ wise, introspective lyrics.
Take my advice: Buy this album. Don’t expect an artist this good to wallow in obscurity for very long. Mayer is already receiving universal critical acclaim and is playing to packed houses across America. You’re a hip music aficionado, so don't be the last person on your block to own this Room for Squares. And don’t make me drive you to the record store to sing to the clerk. ½
45th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance
Your Body Is a Wonderland
Room for Squares is also available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box