|Thursday, May 5, 2016, 12:55:10 PM|
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Off the Charts: Maroon 5
Always mind the mainstream
By Newt Briggs
Start with a big bowl of Jamiroqaui. Stir in a cup of late-'70s Stevie Wonder, two heaping tablespoons of Michael Jackson and just a pinch of the Spin Doctors. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, and--voila!--it's music only a mother could love (and that's exactly the point). While an endless cadre of next-big-thing bands flirts with the so-called alternative, Maroon 5 makes music that's easy as Sunday morning, like Color Me Badd or Geggy Tah. That's right, Geggy Tah, whose 1996 single "Whoever You Are" simultaneously became the lamest and catchiest song on pop radio.
And the same might soon be said of Maroon 5's "This Love"--the vanilla-soul sensation currently rooted at the summit of the Adult Top 40. After almost a year languishing in pop purgatory, Maroon 5's debut album, Songs About Jane, has established a firm foothold on the Billboard charts, and the band is displaying all the hallmarks of a mainstream phenomenon. They're sexy but not too sexy. They're funky but not so funky that they get all freaky-deaky and shit. And their lyrics are so simple that they harken back to the carefree days of '80s crooner Terence Trent Darby: "It's not always rainbows and butterflies/ It's compromise that moves us along" ("She Will Be Loved"). While this may make Maroon 5 disposable in the long term (would people really remember Prince if not for the assless pants and the plentiful references to female masturbation?), it also makes the band a major-label wet dream--a commercially viable rock group that requires no tastemaking or justification.
JANE SAYS: If there's a profound reason why Maroon 5 has chosen its particular name, the band isn't talking about it. "We took a blood oath never to reveal the secrets of Maroon 5," guitarist Jesse Carmichael told UK-Fusion.com earlier in the year. Formerly known as Kara's Flowers--which released a critically hailed but commercially failed LP for Reprise Records in 1997--Maroon 5 switched to the more colorful moniker after adding guitarist James Valentine in 1999. Still, if the band seems tightlipped about its name, it's surprisingly open about the title and content of its album. Songs About Jane was named after one of frontman Adam Levine's ex-girlfriends, and every song on the album purportedly contains lyrics about their failed relationship. If this is indeed the case, the lyrics to the lead single "Harder to Breathe" make it clear why the pair parted company: "I have the tendency of getting very physical/ So watch your step 'cause if I do you'll need a miracle."
THE COLOR LINE: After Kara's Flowers initially broke up, Levine and Carmichael absconded to a small liberal arts college in New York, where the Los Angeles duo was apparently exposed to black people for the first time. "We were staying in this housing place that was primarily black," Levine told MTV News in 2002. "That's when I started waking up to the whole hip hop, R&B thing. We had friends named Chaos and shit. It was not Brentwood High."
CLOSET FREAK: Known to bandmates as the "Zen master," Levine is notorious for his ascetic lifestyle. "I don't own anything," he said in a 2004 interview with VH1. "I'm into clothes, and that's basically it."
THE CRYING GAME: According to the MTV News story, Maroon 5 knew it had finally cracked the mainstream at a show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, where the sound of the crowd singing actually drowned out Levine's vocals. "We even had some criers," he recalled. "That's awesome. That's so Michael Jackson. It really freaked me out. Who knows, maybe there was something in their eyes. That's what we want. I want our shows to have masses of sexuality and crying."
SEX SELLS, SORT OF: Levine explaining the lyrics to "This Love" to Rolling Stone, March 2004: "I was so sick of typical lyrics like `Ooh, baby' and `I love you' and all this vague shit. I thought the more explicit I got without being totally explicit was a nice approach. The little girls would enjoy them, and it would go right over my grandparents' heads. But it would hit my ex-girlfriend like a ton of bricks. It was perfect. MTV has now edited the language. They won't let me say, `Keep her coming every night,' and they took the `sinking' out of `sinking my fingertips.' It's like fucking communist China. It's totally bizarre."