Maroon 5’s Bold First Step

Generally speaking, rock and soul music follow separate trails, rarely meeting, despite being cut from the same cloth. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin all freely acknowledge the influence of blues and R&B music on their music.

Somewhere along the line, R&B musicians who appreciate rock music became uncool (with rare exceptions like Prince or Terence Trent D’arby). Rock musicians who acknowledged any sort of R&B influence were even more uncool, which is a damn shame, because I don’t care how “indie rock” or “alternative” you are, most kids first exposure to music is through other kids or Top 40 radio, so there’s a much greater chance that your first record as a kid was by Michael Jackson or Prince than by The Ramones or The Clash.

Maroon 5 are a five-piece (duh…) New York-based band who have had a minor hit with Harder To Breathe. Their debut blurs the lines of traditional pop-rock a la matchbox twenty with funky rhythms and soulful vocals from lead singer Adam Levine.  Some are comparing their sound to Jamiroquai, but I see no comparisons outside of skin color, as Jamiroquai is more of a funk/dance band while M5 is definitely a rock band with soul influences.

Harder To Breathe gets the album off to an aggressive start with a thundering beat and a nasty kiss-off lyric. Levine’s voice was compared in one review to Men At Work’s Colin Hay, both laughable and wrong.   His voice suggests the love child of Dave Matthews and Stevie Wonder, and is just this close to grating. Fortunately, the well-written choruses and great backing music redeem the slight annoyance of Levine’s voice.

This Love is a peppy, upbeat, summery track with a loping beat that has just a slight hint of reggae, while Sunday Morning, the album’s tightest track, is a laid back, easygoing vibe track featuring background vocals from Bay Area singer/MC Mystic.

Must Get Out is the closest to a traditional pop/rock Top 40 type of song, with a chorus that glues itself in your head, while Shiver is the most aggressively (and aggressively sexual) song on the album. Featuring a breathless falsetto vocal and a stop-start arrangement that recalls peak-era Michael Jackson,  Shiver is one of Songs About Jane’s standouts.

I hate harping on the Jackson comparison (and what would one of my reviews be without at least one MJ reference?), but a lot of the tracks on this album share the jagged beats and soured view on relationships that The King Of Pop’s more recent work has, including the brooding Not Coming Home, which sounds a bit too polished to be a live recording, but also has crowd noise in the background. If the band sounds this good live, I’ll be the first in line when tickets go on sale!

Most great music defies description due to the influences of several divergent styles. While they’re not all the way THERE yet (there are some songs that sound a bit anonymous), I’ve gotta give Maroon 5 props for being able to fuse rock and soul sounds cleanly enough that open-minded fans of both genres will enjoy it. Equal parts neo-soul and rock ‘n’ roll, Songs About Jane is a great debut by a promising new band.

Key tracks: Sunday Morning, ShiverNot Coming Home

–M. Heyliger