Teleporting Back To 1984

Maroon 5’s climb to success has been long. They came to attention in the late Nineties as a Beatle-esque folk/rock band called Kara’s Flowers. Album flopped, band got dropped (I love rhymes, don’t you?). After a couple of years, they regrouped, changed their name to Maroon 5, discovered vintage soul by the likes of Stevie Wonder and adjusted their sound accordingly.

Their debut as Maroon 5, Songs About Jane, was a slow burning success. Released in 2002, the album took a year to get noticed. Fueled by catchy hit singles like This Love and Harder To Breathe (and lead singer Adam Levine’s emergence as a sex symbol), the album eventually sold 4 million copies and won two Grammy Awards. Two years after Jane’s last single faded from view and nearly five years after the release of that album, Maroon 5 are back with the sarcastically-titled It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.

Is it worth the wait?

Should you care?

Well, yeah. While Jane’s hit singles were the album’s high points, the entire set was somewhat inconsistent and probably totaled up as just barely above average — a 6 1/2 or 7 on a scale of 1-10. Soon is more consistent through and through. The songs are better written (and a bit more diverse stylistically, although not lyrically), the production absolutely glistens (which favors the pop/soul side of the band more than it does the rock side), and Levine’s high-pitched wail — an acquired taste, to be sure — is a lot easier to take this time around.

Listening To It Won’t Be Soon Before Long

Some may complain because Maroon 5 obviously wears their influences on their collective sleeve. Soon, for better or worse, is an Eighties tribute album. Listeners can hear echoes of Prince, The Talking Heads, The Police and Michael Jackson.

If I Never See Your Face Again has a loping funk rhythm that recalls Remain in Light-period Heads, but Levine’s soul-derived vocals give the song a more conventional R&B flavor than The Talking Heads produced. Lead single Makes Me Wonder is an early contender for Song of Summer 2007. With a thumping rhythm, some tasty synthesized bass and Levine’s growling, sweaty kiss-off to a former lover, it’s ear candy in a way that you rarely hear anymore. Apparently you can now drop “F” bombs on a track and not get caught with the “Parental Advisory” sticker, as Levine lets at least three of ’em loose on this song.

The band opens up stylistically over the course of the album. Nothing Lasts Forever is a reflective, acoustic-kissed track that brings back memories of Dust in the Wind for me.  The lyrics find the usually cocky Levine at his most vulnerable as he revisits the chorus from his 2005 Kanye West collaboration Heard ‘Em Say. The dramatic piano ballad Better That We Break and the old school soul of Back At Your Door are further highlights.

The slower tracks are definitely a huge step up from the last album, even though there are still a couple of relative clunkers in the form of the generic pop ballads Goodnight Goodnight and Won’t Go Home Without You. Both songs harken back to the old Kara’s Flowers sound, and both also heavily resemble Jane’s ballad hit She Will Be Loved, which was by far the worst of the album’s four singles. Even more bizarre:  the guitar figure opening Goodnight is almost identical to the one that opens Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down.

There is still significantly more good than bad here. Wake Up Call has a shuffling, reggae-esque groove and the album’s most intriguing lyrics, as Levine catches his woman in bed with another guy and pops a cap in his ass.  Little Of Your Time is an affectionate, obvious  ripoff of OutKast’s Hey Ya!. Levine, who’s gotten notice in the press as a bit of a man ho, peaks with the frankly sexual Kiwi, which starts off as a slammin’ funk jam and then revs up to a squealing rock finish. The groove screams pure Prince, while Levine’s vocal style is still often reminiscent of a higher-pitched (if you can imagine) Michael Jackson. This song is the one that most effortlessly blends the two artist’s styles.

It Won’t Be Soon Before Long is one of those albums that sounds great coming out of your stereo. Every so often, an artist masters the art of the good pop single without being too fluffy, and right now Adam Levine is that man.  The drawback on the enjoyable songs is that they don’t have much emotional heft.  Levine’s lyrics are about sex, sex and oh, did I mention sex?   So don’t look for Maroon 5’s latest to offer any inspirational quotes or change your life unless your life’s goal is to get laid a LOT.  Do look for Soon to provide some excellent pop thrills and as such, serve as a worthy successor to Songs About Jane.

–M. Heyliger