John Mayer’s first album, “Room for Squares”, set up damn near permanent shop in my music rotation shortly after its’ 2001 release, and the two studio albums that followed were even better. Unlike most people, I wasn’t hung up on Mayer’s matinee-idol looks (although I would imagine that most matinee idols don’t have that ugly O-face Mayer has when he performs) or even his admittedly superior guitar skills. For me, it was his lyricism. Somehow, Mayer seemed to tap into lots of feelings I had regarding life, love and relationships. There was an instant and intense relatability.

Well, I guess it’s true what they say: what goes up must come down. Mayer’s fourth solo studio album, “Battle Studies” isn’t anywhere near as good as the album that preceded it, 2006’s “Continuum”. However, let’s be fair here. “Continuum” was a watershed album-the album that managed to convince even my friends that hated John Mayer (and there were plenty of them) that this guy was a lot more than “Your Body is a Wonderland”. Even though “Battle Studies” doesn’t reach those lofty heights, it’s still a pretty solid work. It’s just a matter of tempering your disappointment after realizing that this isn’t another “Continuum” and then appreciating the album for what it is.

“Battle Studies” is, is a concept album about relationships. Folks have been comparing being in love to a war for years-think Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” or Lenny Kravitz’s “Battlefield of Love” or Jordin Sparks’ “Battlef…” OK, you get the picture. Mayer stretches this metaphor out for an entire album, with mixed results.

Musically, the album’s fairly restrained. The most energetic song on “Battle Studies” is a very faithful version of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”, required playing for every aspiring blues guitarist. In terms of remakes, Mayer has done better (“Bold As Love”, “Free Fallin'”), but this is pretty solid, if a little bit on the karaoke side. He fares far better with original works like “Heartbreak Warfare” and “Assassins”. The latter song has the album’s best lyrics, while the former song comes a close second lyrically but adds an ambient U2-esque musical vibe. It has an expansive sound that’s atypical of Mayer’s vibe but notably still manages to maintain the intimacy that’s a hallmark of his work.

“Half of My Heart” is taylor made (pun alert) to climb the charts, and as if Mayer needed any help making the song a hit, it features support vocals by music’s current it-girl Taylor Swift. On the other side of things, there’s the simple “Who Says”, which sounds agreeably tossed-off. It’s a simple acoustic ditty (that recalls “The Heart of Life”, one of the best songs on “Continuum”), with unusually acerbic lyrics from Mayer (“I don’t remember you looking any better/but then again, I don’t remember you”).

Then there’s the rest of the album. Songs like the bluesy “Perfectly Lonely” and the slow jam “All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye” are decent enough, but I don’t get the same spark of recognition and appreciation on these songs that I get from Mayer’s earlier work, and I think that’s the rub here. There’s not a bad song to be heard here, but some of the songs (especially on the last third of the album) sound like John Mayer spinning his wheels. Thankfully, John Mayer on autopilot is still relatively engaging.