Sunday, November 27, 2011

Decent Funk-Rock Defines The Pop Of Maroon 5 On It Won't Be Soon Before Long

The Good: Good sound, Some decent lyrics, Full, produced instrumentals
The Bad: A lot of derivative songs, Short
The Basics: Funky and fairly fresh, Maroon 5 returns with an album worth listening to with It Won't Be Soon Before Long!

A few years ago, I actually got around to listening to the debut by Maroon 5 Songs About Jane after years of enjoying their radio singles. I discovered a band that had a lot of potential that had created a fairly solid album with a lot to enjoy. It is almost surprising, then, that it has taken me so long to picking up their sophomore effort, It Won't Be Soon Before Long. Now that I have - and listened to it over ten times - I find myself having mixed feelings on the second outing.

More than any album I have listened to in the recent past, It Won't Be Soon Before Long is both an album of great consistency (it sounds very much like the Maroon 5 anyone might have heard on the radio) and great derivation. Almost every song sounds like it could gave been a lost song from a great '80's band. So, for example, "Won't Go Home Without You" sounds remarkably like a song by the Police (especially in the beginning of the song). Similarly, "Kiwi" sounds like a lost track by Michael Jackson.

With twelve tracks, clocking in at 40:38, It Won't Be Soon Before Long is definitely the work of Maroon 5. All of the songs are written by lead singer Adam Levine or co-written with his bandmates. The quintet plays their own instruments and Levine provides the lead vocals. As well, each song has Maroon 5 credited as a co-producer, so it does appear that the entire band was intimately involved in insuring that It Won't Be Soon Before Long.

And it's a good effort and a decent effect. It Won't Be Soon Before Long sounds good, with a strong funk-rock production sensibility. The band has strong instrumentals mixing guitars, bass and keyboards remarkably well in order to insure a virtual wall of sound when the album is being played. The strong instrumentals contrast well with Levine's higher pitched vocals that define the band's sound.

Levine is a decent writer, as well. The songs are largely about relationships on It Won't Be Soon Before Long and most of those relationships are in the process of being torn apart. I'm not saying this is a great break-up album, but between the infidelity leading to murder on "Wake Up Call" to the apathy toward the relationship exhibited on "Goodnight Goodnight," none of the musical protagonists seem to be keeping it together well. The singer is abandoned after affairs on "Not Falling Apart" and rails against the love he once had on "Makes Me Wonder." Maroon 5 is irked about the state of relationships with women on It Won't Be Soon Before Long! Despite how the album sounds musically, this is not a happy, upbeat pop-rock album.

For example, on "Goodnight Goodnight," - one of the quieter tracks on the album - the musical protagonist is in the process of leaving. Levine's lyrics are straightforward and heartfelt with lines like ". . . I've licked my wounds but I can't ever see things getting better / Something's gotta change / Things cannot stay the same / Her hair was pressed against her face her eyes were red / With anger enraged by things unsaid / And empty beds / And bad behaviors" ("Goodnight Goodnight"). Levine creates a clear portrait of the last stages of a relationship where the participants are simply burning their bridges. It works well in the softer sounding song as well, creating a genuine sense of loss.

Despite some of the final tracks that seem to muse on whether breaking up or not is the right direction, the album opens with the direct approach. Opening with "If I Never See Your Face Again," the tone is set by the defiant and angry tone with "Sometimes you move so well / It's hard not to give in / I'm lost I can't tell / Where you end and I begin / It makes me burn to learn you're with another man / I wonder if he's half the lover that I am." There is both an anger and an ambivalence in the lines that works well for the conflicted mood of that sort of moment and it makes for a surprisingly decent song.

It is also worth noting that Maroon 5, despite the relative youth of the members, seems to be a more adult band. The lines are more about the complexities of relationships than the young moon-eyed joy of falling in love. As a result, a lot of the lines are overtly sexual and even their big radio hit "Makes Me Wonder" contains some swearing. But again, the album seems to be geared toward adults, so this ought not to be much of a problem.

What is a problem is the way the album comes together, specifically in the end. After a pretty decent run of mostly funky, upbeat-sounding tracks, the album hits "Better That We Break," a melancholy little ballad with the depressed refrain "It's not right not okay / Say the words that you say / Maybe we're better off this way / I'm not fine I'm in pain / It's harder every day/ Maybe we're better off this way / It's better that we break." This song work perfectly to close off the album, especially with the trademark three-syllable version of "every" that calls back to their big hit "This Love" from their debut. It beautifully bookends the album and ends it with the soaring, expressive crescendo that the album needs.

However, like the Crash Test Dummies album God Shuffled His Feet (reviewed here!), It Won't Be Soon Before Long does not end with its first logical end point. Instead, there is a second album ending song, "Back At Your Door." This is somewhat redundant given the quality and sense of closure that comes from "Better That We Break."

Another drawback is in how monolithic the vocals are. Generally Adam Levine has a higher pitched voice than most rock and roll lead singers and the result is that it creates a trademark sound. Unfortunately, because he stays very safe in his higher range on almost every track, the album has a slightly monotonous sound after many spins. Still, it's better than most anything else on the radio these days!

Part of the reason for this is the instrumentals. Levine's vocals are backed by a very rich sound that includes bass, keyboards, and multiple guitars (one of which Levine himself plays). As well, the drums on It Won't Be Soon Before Long are remarkably pronounced. In fact, on "Won't Go Home Without You," the drums and keyboard mix in a way that keeps the percussion vital and essential to the sound of the piece. Despite the somewhat predictable rhyme scheme of the song, it sounds great and makes for a very classic pop-rock song. In fact, anyone who loved the music of the 1980s will find the song has a familiar quality to it.

Anyone who wants a decent pop-rock break-up album will find something to like on It Won't Be Soon Before Long. The songs are pretty solid and my "recommend" is much stronger than the star rating.

The best track is "Not Falling Apart," I'm not terribly fond of "Little Of Your Time" because of the repetition of the title line an inordinate number of times.

Those who like Maroon 5 or It Won't Be Soon Before Long might enjoy:
One Night Only - The Bee Gees
Drops Of Jupiter - Train
Then: The Early Years - They Might Be Giants


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© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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