The Good: Generally decent music, Some good lyrics, Some good vocals
The Bad: Pretenses of being a harder-rocking band, Usual debut problems
The Basics: On Songs About Jane, a new band writes and sings decent songs with expected and acceptable musical limitations of a debut disc.
[Note: This was originally written four years after the debut of Maroon 5’s album “Songs About Jane!” Now, there is a tenth anniversary edition of the album! Enjoy!]
It's hard for me to believe how fast time flies sometimes. Maroon 5's Songs About Jane debuted almost five years ago with its radio success starting almost four years ago. That means I've been considering this group and purchasing their debut for almost four years. Wow, I ought to make up my mind. In my defense, Maroon 5's career thus far has been a model of the slow burn; Songs About Jane had songs on the charts from 2003 through 2005, slowly ascending, slowly descending.
Maroon 5 is a relatively new musical group, a pop-rock quintet that sounds pretty much like the ultimate garage band that has hit the mainstream. The notable difference between Maroon 5 and those kids down the street still playing in their garage (other than Maroon 5 being on the radio several times a day)? Lead singer Adam Levine can sing and the band backing him can actually play their instruments. Quite well.
Maroon 5 is pretty much the teen dream; the members of the group are in their mid-twenties and they've traveled from obscurity to being a respectable charting success. That's luck. Or talent. My argument, after listening to Songs About Jane four times, is that this is a talented group and that - unless the musical movements that dominate our culture - shift before they can get their next work out, this will not be a one-hit wonder.
The reason for that assertion is in the lyrics of Maroon 5. Lead singer Adam Levine wrote or co-wrote all twelve tracks on Songs About Jane, usually with fellow bandmate Jesse Carmichael. Carmichael and Levine wrote three of the four radio hits for Maroon 5, "Harder To Breathe," "This Love," and "Sunday Morning," with "She Will Be Loved" being written by Levine and James Valentine. The poetics of the band are thematically dominated by love, with that word coming up on almost every track. Outside that, the album has a freshness of the young lyricists that makes it something truly different.
One wonders if the boy bands of the late 90s would have survived longer had they been writing more of their own material. With Levine creating such imaginative lines as "Fresh dirt under my fingernails / And I can smell hot asphalt / Cars screech to a halt to let me pass / And I cannot remember / What life was like through the photographs . . ." ("The Sun") it's hard to imagine the group would have a shorter career than, say, the Backstreet Boys. It's truly not a comparison; despite the popular vocalizations of that prior band, they never had anything as emotively connected as "Sunday Morning," where Carmichael and Levine simply emote "Sunday morning rain is falling / Steal some covers share some skin / Clouds are shrouding us in moments unforgettable / You twist to fit the mold that I am in . . ."
Part of the success of such songs is certainly in the lyrics. The other half is the ease with which Adam Levine sings them. He has an easygoing mid-range voice that is articulate and clear. In fact, outside their debut single, "Harder To Breathe," the songs are generally slower tempo, melodic and articulate. Why Maroon 5 debuted with "Harder To Breathe" - why it is even on Songs About Jane - remains a mystery to me. "Harder To Breathe" is pretty much the archetypal "we're in a rock band, see how hard we can bang our guitars," garage band track. It underperforms when stacked next to the more mature sounds of such songs as "This Love," "The Sun," "Sunday Morning," and the quiet strummings of "Secret." Why Maroon 5 feels the need to put up such a pretense is an unfortunate mystery.
The thing is, the addition of the incongruent "Harder To Breathe," starts the album on a misstep and establishes an unfortunate set of expectations for an album that is much softer than the yelling that comes from the vocalist in that track. Moreover, it makes the listener believe that Maroon 5 is going to continue being as sloppy musically as they are on that track.
Maroon 5 is not a sloppy band. Their songs are well-constructed and producer Matt Wallace balances the music and vocals fairly well, with the result being a soft pop-rock debut. The thing is, while Maroon 5 is not sloppy, they are somewhat limited. This is a guitar, bass, drums and keyboard band and there is not a lot of musical diversity. The group has found its musical range and it sticks in that range religiously. They have found their niche and they certainly play to their strengths - which is why Levine's voice is front and center, with the instrumentals usually softly backing him up - but one may not deny their weaknesses. The band has a very specific range of notes, chords and instruments. What one hopes to see from Maroon 5 is a growth where they keep their strengths (lyrics and voice) and expand outward musically.
Listening to Songs About Jane, it's difficult to suggest that the band will not be given that room for growth. Maroon 5 is a young band, but because they are so artistically driven, they have the potential to grow and expand beyond their current limitations. I suspect they will rise to our expectations and continue to succeed. Songs About Jane is for anyone who likes soft pop-rock with understandable lyrics, decent vocals and some recognizable melodies. For those who have more mature tastes, Songs About Jane is likely to appeal to fans of The Eagles. As I evaluate this album, the album it is most like that I've heard recently is Hell Freezes Over (reviewed here!).
If a comparison to the Eagles does not give one the sense of potential, if not actualization, to recommend Songs About Jane, I'm not sure what can! The best track is the smooth, jazzy "Sunday Morning." The weakest track is certainly the opening "Harder To Breathe."
For other, similar, groups, please visit my reviews of:
“Some Might Say” – Oasis
Approaching Normal - Blue October
Exile On Mainstream - Matchbox Twenty
For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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