Since their 2002 debut album “Songs About Jane”, Maroon 5 has become one of the biggest acts in popular music. Their signature blend of pop, funk, rock, soul, R&B and even jazz is universally recognizable. With four #1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and over 135 million records sold, their success is undeniable. Their future, however, might be in question.
As quickly as they became one of the most successful bands in the world, they also became one of the most hated. Maroon 5 garnered a reputation as a group of sellouts who barely played their instruments on their records anymore. Much of the criticism is targeted at lead singer Adam Levine, a man as egotistical as he is controversial. In light of Levine’s recent affair allegations, it appears that Maroon 5 may become the next Nickelback. But is that completely justified?
The band indeed went through a noticeable sonic shift around the early 2010s, and it’s evident that Levine has made his fair share of immoral decisions. Nevertheless, reducing Maroon 5 to a poorly received reinvention and a string of infidelities doesn’t do the band justice. There has to be a reason millions of people still see Maroon 5 in concert and sing along to their songs on the radio, right? Right. At the end of the day — putting aside all of their shortcomings as human beings — Maroon 5 is a really good band.
The quality of their songwriting may be up for discussion, but hardly anyone says that they’re sloppy or unrehearsed. Much of their live footage shows a band that not only plays their instruments but does so very well. While Levine gets most of the attention, the other members of the band are honestly underrated. They not only have the musical chops, but they also know to serve the song rather than show off and play as much as they can, as fast as they can.
This level of quality and constraint is apparent in their debut album, “Songs About Jane.” The whole album is a solid record from start to finish and is much better than most people give it credit for. Featuring standout tracks like “Shiver,” “Sunday Morning,” “Secret” and “She Will Be Loved,” there is hardly a dull moment in this twelve-song delight. The last song, “Sweetest Goodbye,” might be the only exception; it’s a decent track, but it’s just not on par with the rest of the album. Still, putting out such a strong record on their first try is a remarkable feat.
“Songs About Jane” isn’t a one-trick pony either: There’s more to the album than four-chord pop songs about love, heartache or sex. It incorporates elements of R&B and jazz into the composition, which contribute enough variation to keep their tracks from becoming cliché boyband singles. The mood varies from song to song, shifting seamlessly from raucous and blood-pumping to gentle and heartfelt. And while this is a breakup album about a struggling, toxic relationship, the lyrics shift in emotional complexity from song to song. They oscillate between burning resentment, sympathetic comfort, bursting passion, nostalgic remorse and fulfilling finality.
However, despite the album’s emotional complexities, it was actually a sleeper hit. The album came out in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2004 that it peaked on the Billboard 200 at #6 — two whole years after the record first came out. What’s more, Maroon 5 was drastically overshadowed by pop/rock acts such as The Strokes, Jet, Linkin Park, Nickelback and others. Early 2000s rock trends didn’t favor the polished, slick, less-abrasive grooves of Maroon 5. Much of the music from that period relied too heavily on nostalgia and the fans ultimately outgrew it. But “Songs About Jane” still sounds as fresh and fun as it did 20 years ago.
That being said, it’s strange listening to the album in retrospect. Maroon 5’s transition to a new sound wasn’t instantaneous, as their 2007 follow-up album “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long” is a worthy successor. Their first few albums are quite good. Nevertheless, after they released the single “Moves Like Jagger” in 2010 they started to abandon the clever progressions and lyrical complexities that made them successful in the first place. That’s when their reputation as sellouts began.
The band indeed experienced a noticeable sound change after that #1 single, but they still play their older songs live. Moreover, the band has never been sued for plagiarism, which can’t be said for acts like Ed Sheeran, Radiohead, Robin Thicke, Olivia Rodrigo, and Led Zeppelin.
But it’s understandable if people still don’t like Maroon 5. Adam Levine can be a difficult figure to actually like for various reasons; whether it be the tone of his voice, his dumb comment that “hot girls don’t like metal,” or somehow managing to enrage the entire country of Chile. Furthermore, it would appear that few fans fully recovered from the band’s 2010 musical metamorphosis. These shortcomings, when considered in tandem with their infamous Super Bowl Halftime Show, make the band’s road forward rocky at best.
They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s not a crime to enjoy Maroon 5, especially their earlier albums. It’s also worth asking who the band’s main detractors are: Chances are they haven’t seen much live footage or listened to the band’s albums from beginning to end. So before forming an opinion about Maroon 5, listen to “Songs About Jane.” Give their work the chance it deserves.