Monday, February 8, 2016

Maroon Five - Songs About Jane - 2002

What the what now?  Maroon 5?  On this blog!?  I know what you're probably thinking.  I done sold the hell out, or that I have been featuring so much retro pop that I've just acquired a new taste in music.  I assure you, that's not the case.  Not even a little bit.  Matter of fact, this is a borderline Sia(esque) post.  It's more of a WTF happened post.  What if I told you that there once was a time that Maroon 5 was actually a very good alt-pop group?  Before they started crashing weddings and moved like Jagger, Maroon 5 actually made really good music.  So good in fact that they were regarded as indie hipsters along the lines of Gotye.

From 1994 till roughly when this album came to life, the group was originally known as Kara's Flowers.  Kara's Flowers, to say the least, was essentially what I would call 90's Bro Rock.  Which, if you don't know what that is, it's anything you would have heard on the original American Pie Soundtrack.  The only album they released under that name, The Fourth World, was a mediocre indie success and definitely wasn't anywhere near commercial enough to be considered a commercial failure.  They really didn't fit into that era of music.  As a band from California, the sound just wasn't right for the time.  We're talking about a year that saw Ace Of Base hold 3 of the top 10 songs.  Salt N' Peppa had Shoop, and the music was so strange that the Crash Test Dummies had a hit with a song was literally little more than humming, Mmm - Mmm - Mmm - Mmm.  I'll give them this though, had they had a major label backing them, they would have beat a lot of people to the stage, but then grunge happened anyway so there's that.

Fast forward to June 25, 2002.  Songs About Jane is released to a field of crickets.  A newly renamed, and a fresh sounding band came out with an entire album with zero publicity and no singles.  Here's the rub, the first single from the album, Harder To Breathe, was released on July 9th 2002, about 2 weeks after the album.  It took 20 weeks for it to even register on charts.  The International charts that is.

Harder To Breathe

It was sometime around this period that I picked up the CD.  Initially, I didn't think very highly of it, but it was the best of a really bad situation.  I mean, Nickelback had the biggest single of 2002 with How You Remind Me.  I'll never forget the day that I went to pick up a futon in SoHo and forgot to grab my other CD's for the road trip.  I ended up listening to Songs About Jane about 4 times that day.  It grew on me.  By the time I hit the Manhattan Bridge, I was blasting it with the windows open that unreasonably warm and rainy March day.  I tried to get other people to listen to that album, but nobody cared.  I do however remember saying to no less than a few people, someday this might catch on.

This Love

Their second single, This Love, was released 2 years later.  That's right.  I said 2 years.  January 27th, 2004.  Sometime between 2002 and 2004 something really strange happened.  Figuring that their first single took 20 weeks to chart, making it the longest ever to do so, The Maroon 5 brain trust felt that their album really had legs.  I would like to think that they caught up to their time.  You see, 2003 was all about Soul and R&B.  Aaliyah, Beyonce, and R Kelly made up more than half of the top singles of 2003.  By early 2004 when this single was released, it was done so in the same cannon.  R&B was popular then.  Maroon 5 had found their sound.  They were dubbed as "white soul" with shades of R&B.  So much so that they were asked to tour with some of the largest R&B acts of that time period.  Just like that, 2004 found Usher, Alicia Keys, and Maroon 5 making up the top 5 singles of the year.  The song, This Love, ended up winning Maroon 5 their first Grammy, and two years after the album was released, suddenly it's hitting the charts in the top 10.  

The album flirts with hard rock, elements of soul, and lots of R&B.  Not Beyonce R&B, but 80's style R&B.  Think Billy Ocean R&B.  What made Maroon 5 unique was their approach to how they timed their music.  They knew that they were either way ahead of their time, or too far behind it.  The 90's weren't ready for them.  The 2000's signaled a huge redefinition of music anyway, and they changed with the time.  

The next 2 singles also came in 2004.  They figured to ride the success of their Grammy and make sure that people heard what Maroon 5 was all about.  In July they released, She Will Be Loved.

She Will Be Loved

She Will Be Loved reached 35 on the Billboard charts that year.  How is it that a group can have 2 of the top songs in a year, 2 years after the album those songs are from is released?  I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that there was really only 2 types of music around then.  R&B or Country.  For those that are old enough to recall, 2004 was roughly when Country music began it's popular resurgence.  It was also the year that I famously reminded a lot of folks that I had an original CD of Songs About Jane long before Maroon 5 was popular.  As a matter of fact, there were a good number of people actually believing that Maroon 5 was a new group.  They've been around for 10 years at this point.  Essentially, me knowing about and to a degree liking this group in 2002 made me a hipster.  They later released Sunday Morning just before Christmas of 2004.  No doubt hoping for even more of that Grammy love, but sadly it was too much a ballad in a sea of really bad stuff that began to creep into 2005.  Holla Back Girl anyone?

Sunday Morning

The final single, Must Get Out, was little more than small club material, however, it made it to 61 on the charts domestically.  It's appropriate that this was the last single from this album.  At some point, and even listening to it now, it really sounds like Adam Levine knew that Maroon 5 was going to enter another shift in music style.  Actually, more appropriately, it sounded like he wanted to make a hit record.  What did that mean?  In a nutshell, it meant that rather than make a sleeper hit, such as Songs About Jane, make a radio friendly pop album.  So, they did, and thus the Maroon 5 that you all know these days some 10 years later was born.

I get it, there's a reason Pop music is called Pop music.  Supposedly it's what the music buying public is into.  That doesn't make it good.  It certainly doesn't make it bad either.  It just makes it manufactured.  It creates a lot of acts that sound very much the same.  It's sad that Maroon 5 chose to go in such a radically different direction post Songs About Jane, but I'm sure someone will find greatness in whatever it is they do now.  Maybe to others, it'll be near as good as this one.

Originally, like most music in the late 90's early 2000's, anything released on vinyl was remarkably difficult to find.  It took the better part of the last 5 years for this album to get a proper re-release and was done so by 2 different labels and distributed by 4 different vendors and as 4 different types.  If you were lucky to get one of the 4000 copies last year during the reissue, you landed something special.  This is a great pressing.  2 slabs of 180grm wax packaged with some remixes and mp3's of the entire album.  If you can find one of these for less than $50 go out and get it. 

Next week, in light of Valentines Day, I'm presenting, Singles.  Cause, well, that's what I feel like, being single.

Must Get Out

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