Review Summary: not a boy, not yet a man
Find a person who doesn't like Songs About Jane
. I dare you. Talk to your friends, your family, anyone you know (in real life) and see if they think it’s bad. This album has achieved an absolutely legendary status. I have yet to find anyone, anyone
, who likes pop music and doesn't at least like "Sunday Morning". It's not really a mystery why. Stevie Wonder joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they hired a powerful voice to sing innuendos hidden in plain sight on strictly three to four-minute songs. The concept is sixteen years old, and it still sounds like it'd do well in local circuits, at the very least.
Meanwhile, it was 2002. Disco still wasn't cool again yet, jeans were sagging, Sabrina The Teenage Witch
was still airing, and America was looking for a boy band in disguise. Maroon 5 had the underdog hype (Kara's Flowers' debut five years earlier, beloved by fans and otherwise ignored), the pop-rock sound people wanted with the funk they didn't know they did, and they felt like a serious band in an era where people were finally realizing that bands were a dying breed. And a band they were - every track on here features obvious talent from every band member, from Adam Levine's obviously fantastic vocal range to Ryan Dusick's deeply smooth percussion. Jesse Carmichael's occasional dashes of piano and James Valentine's gritty guitar balance each other out (notice how "She Will Be Loved" and "Tangled" are parallels in the tracklisting), while Mickey Madden plays perhaps the second most essential role as bassist, providing the groove everyone else embellishes off of.
This helps it keep that 2000s-era essential rock authenticity despite the obviously modern production style, a mix balanced so clearly and cleanly that the "audience" on the obviously studio "Not Coming Home" sticks out like a sore thumb. It's things like that that make it hard not to feel a bit manipulated throughout the runtime. Not that this seems like a product lacking talent promoted as if it has it, as is frequently claimed about their current work, but it seems as if it was created to appeal to the largest possible population. Nothing about it is deeply unique or original. The lyrics are deeply sensual - a constant theme for Maroon 5 - but they feel vague, disguised to work with airplay. Songs that seem like they were meant to continue slowly fade out instead ("This Love," "Sweetest Goodbye") or drop off suddenly ("Harder To Breathe," "Through With You"), seemingly tailor-made to keep people listening till the end. Rashida Jones did backup vocals and Kanye West featured in the bonus tracks. And of course, they had recently suffered the crippling commercial failure of The Fourth World
, a failure harsh enough to lead to their label dropping them, learning despite their best efforts exactly what does not get airplay. It's hard not to wonder what could have happened if they had different motivations. The romantic passion behind these tracks is palpable and deep - maybe it could have been furious instead of pissed, uplifting instead of peaceful, broken instead of cracked.
In reality though, nobody but the band really knows how cynical the Songs About Jane
creation process was, or what another attempt would have sounded like. The success may simply have been the work of artists who tried really hard to make the best music they could. Besides, attempting to find financial success off of art is not bad, and selling out isn't the downfall of musicians in the 21st century that it was in the 20th. Regardless of what the artists' (or the record label's) intentions were, this is still a deeply appealing album. Soft and sad enough to appeal to the wounded heart, but rough enough around the edges to earn a spot on the football family's barbecue CD player, they had, probably accidentally, perfected the balancing act between harsh and appealing, cool and cliché, playful and serious. They would never find it again.