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John Mayer, "Continuum"

On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98

When John Mayer released the single "Your Body Is A Wonderland" in 2002, music buffs believed him to be quite transparent.

The common criticism was that Mayer was the type of guitar player whose aim is to woo women with his talent rather than create innovative music.

A justified criticism - the song screams, "Hey ladies, look at me playing guitar. I'm a sensitive guy. Please sleep with me."

Of course, that's the aim of many guitar players - hence, "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" - but most go about it in a subtler manner.

Since then, the former Berklee College of Music student has grown up a bit, apparent in his latest release, "Continuum."

With the opening track, "Waiting On The World To Change," an impressive attempt at an anthem for a generation, Mayer shows that his songwriting has grown with age.

So, too, has his style.

"Continuum" features the pop sensibility that made Mayer an MTV favorite, most notably on "Vultures" (a song with a chord progression that conjures memories of Talking Heads' "Take Me To The River"), but the album is more firmly rooted in the Atlanta-based artist's blues influences.

As if to cement his intention to be taken as a serious blues guitarist, Mayer includes a flaring rendition of the Jimi Hendrix classic, "Bold As Love," and pairs with 8-string guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter on "In Repair."

The album's consistent feature, however, is Mayer's impressive guitar playing. Whether on the album's simpler pop compositions, such as the philosophical "Belief" and the Beatles-esque "The Heart Of Life," or the blues-based tunes, such as the lullaby "Gravity," Mayer's guitar work and tone is refreshingly crisp.

Mayer still isn't the most innovative songwriter, nor has he come close to successfully bridging blues and pop in the manner which his idol, Eric Clapton, was able to do, but "Continuum" shows promise of what Mayer may deliver in the future.

Rating: Fans of Mayer's radio hits may find "Continuum" somewhat alien; others will welcome the added depth.

Audioslave, "Revelations"

On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98

Considering the average shelf life of a supergroup is shorter than Gary Coleman, Audioslave already stakes a claim among the most successful.

The group followed its roaring 2002 debut with last year's "Out Of Exile," featuring "Be Yourself" and "Doesn't Remind Me," and "Live In Cuba," a video of its performance in Havana with a set that includes renditions of songs by the members' original bands, Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine.

While everyone waits for the band to follow the path of Billy Corgan's ill-fated Zwan and fall apart at the seams, Chris Cornell and company keep kicking out the jams.

"Revelations," Audioslave's third album, continues to tread the riff-heavy, hard-rock trail blazed by Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine.

The title track ignites the album with a soothing 15-second introduction that gives way to a charging barnburner that is among the group's best songs.

The album remains in high gear with the funky "One And The Same" and the predictable but on target "Sound Of A Gun" before showcasing Audioslave's softer side on the ballad, "Until We Fall."

"Original Fire," the first single from the album, resets the intense pace with its classic rock sound, and "Broken City," another of the album's highlights, features guitarist Tom Morello at his best, creating a sonic storm of his trademark space-age riffs.

Then, the second half of the album begins, stumbling at the middle of the marathon with "Somedays," a forgettable tune featuring some of Cornell's most uninspired lyrics, and "Shape of Things To Come," doomed from the moment the first chord of its flimsy riff is struck.

By the time the album closes with "Moth," it's apparent that "Revelations" features some of Audioslave's best and worst recordings. With that said, a bad recording for Audioslave still reaches a plateau that most bands envy.

Rating: Worth the purchase for Audioslave fans. For those looking for an introduction to one of the hardest rocking bands of the new millennium, check out the debut, self-titled album instead.

Justin Timberlake, "FutureSex/LoveSounds"

On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98

Justin Timberlake is no longer the teen idol of yesteryear.

While fellow former 'N Sync member Lance Bass recently enjoyed a brief return to the spotlight with his summer revelation about his homosexuality, resulting in about-face attention from supermarket tabloids, Timberlake has continued to revamp his image with the release of his second solo album, "FutureSex/Lovesounds."

As if the album's title and cover art, which shows Timberlake sporting a five o'clock shadow and destroying a disco ball with a swift kick, weren't enough to announce a final departure from his boy group past, the album's lyrics are naughty enough to gain it a "Parental Advisory" warning.

Apparently, he's all grown up, which is a good thing because the girls who made him famous are now women.

The album is filled with songs sure to be incessantly played in clubs around the globe - if the single "SexyBack" already isn't - but not of the brand found on "Justified," his debut album.

"FutureSex/LoveSounds" features none of the Michael Jackson-inspired pop tunes found on "Justified" - "Like I Love You" and "Rock Your Body" pull pages from Jackson's "Off The Wall" - but instead is filled with darker drum and bass productions.

The head-bobbing "Sexy Ladies/Let Me Talk To You Prelude" and hip-shaker "My Love" are among the album's highlights, as is his collaboration with hardcore rap group Three 6 Mafia on "Chop Me Up."

Although "FutureSex/LoveSounds" is an accomplishment for Timberlake in that it shows a desire to reach a larger, more mature audience, it lacks cohesion.

After the club anthems, the album's last three songs, slower R&B numbers, seem awkwardly tacked on. "Losing My Way," a song about drug addiction, is ridiculous - Timberlake singing about drugs is like Toby Keith singing about the inner city.

And Timberlake still dwells on his breakup with Britney Spears, evident on "What Goes Around:/:Comes Around," which makes it difficult to take his newer sound seriously.

Come on Justin, have you seen the guy she married? She's not worth it, buddy.

Rating: Timberlake may end up becoming the biggest pop star of the generation, but he still has a long way to go.

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