July 07, 2003 12:00 PM

Justin Guarini (RCA)

The first release by Guarini, last year’s American Idol runner-up, brings to mind another Justin: Timberlake. But many of these standard pop-soul songs sound like rejects from Timberlake’s excellent Justified. Timberlake even helped write the mushy love song “Thinking of You,” one of five tracks smoothly coproduced by Babyface. Also lending star support is Brian McKnight, who composed the pretty though treacly ballad “Condition of My Heart.” Meanwhile Guarini’s Idol conqueror, Kelly Clarkson, chimes in on the melodramatic, string-laden duet “Timeless” (featured in their movie musical From Justin to Kelly), which once again proves that Clark-son is the better vocalist.

Unlike Clarkson on her superior debut, Thankful, Guarini has trouble resisting Idol schmaltz on a version of the Righteous Brothers’ 1965 classic “Unchained Melody” that would have better suited Clay Aiken. The low point, however, is the bubblegum dance number “Inner Child,” which, with its insipid lyrics (“You make me feel wild/ You touch my inner child”), is downright juvenile.

BOTTOM LINE: You won’t worship this Idol

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