In the summer of 2004, my taste in music was at a juncture that could be kindly described as "nascency."
Sure, the 15-year-old me was only a semester away from getting on the right track by diving headfirst into the Weezer catalog and not emerging for a couple months. But there was also the time I begged my dad to take my friend and me to see Three Days Grace two hours from home. I stupidly skipped my turn in my baseball team's starting rotation to attend that concert, which is doubly unfortunate because a hard-hit line drive might've knocked some sense into me.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I'm driving across Illinois and concocting a scheme to alter our family vacation for the sake of getting to a John Mayer concert at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto. Actually, I wish that were the whole truth. I was mostly hoping to get to the Molson Amphitheatre in order to see Mayer's opening act, Maroon 5.
And then it actually happened.
Before we knew it, my dad and I were relaxing on the amphitheatre lawn after a long day of driving when a duo from the John Mayer street team came around with questionnaires to fill out. "Are you excited for John?" the female asked, in an ill-fated attempt to make conversation with a 15-year-old. "We're actually here to see Maroon 5," I told her.
Cue the most instantaneous and coordinated round of glares I've ever received. Apparently, admitting you enjoy Maroon 5 is simply something you don't do, even amongst a group of people sitting on picnic blankets and talking up the artistic merits of "Your Body is a Wonderland."
That must be the case, because it's roughly the same response I got from a friend after telling him last year that I still liked the first Maroon 5 album, Songs About Jane. As far as I knew at the time that was the truth, even though, save for Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun," I hadn't intentionally listened to any tunes concerning a woman named Jane in nearly a decade.
I had fond memories of that sunny summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I would watch the "She Will Be Loved" video on MTV and promise myself that, by the time I got to be however vaguely old singer Adam Levine was -- 25 might as well have been 45 to me -- I too would become trapped in a love triangle with a model and her mother. (A quick Wikipedia consultation reveals that Levine was slightly younger then than I am now, and that scenario never quite came to fruition for me.)
Memory, as I'm beginning to realize, rarely equals reality. As recently as two weeks ago, I was pitching a piece in which I would defend Songs About Jane ahead of Maroon 5's visit to St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center in March. Upon dusting off my Jane MP3s for the first time in 11 years in preparation for writing that article, I realized that I simply cannot defend this record.
Yes, certain songs are still an enjoyable listen, but side two, ouch. (Has anyone ever, in the history of the Earth, referred to the sides of a Maroon 5 album?) It's pretty rough going once the hits are through.
That's a real bummer, because I have a lot of positive memories tied up in all the times I would blast this record on my stereo. In a way, I wish I still liked it.
Either way, this begs the question, why did I still think of Songs About Jane as a legitimate collection of quality music, a cohesive whole unfairly derided because of its mainstream success? After all, I had outgrown the Three Days Graces of the world within three months of my dad buying us scalped tickets to that show (my bad, pops), and never looked back.
Story continues on the next page.
What I've found upon a second listen is that, while two-thirds of the record leaves a lot to be desired, the hits still hit. As pop-rock songs go, "This Love" and "Harder to Breathe" are solid line-drive singles to the center fielder, and I'd even be willing to say that "She Will Be Loved" sneaks into the gap for a double. (The lesser Jane single, "Sunday Morning," is more like an infield hit that the pitcher couldn't get to in time.)
Those first three songs, though, are the only Jane cuts I ever hear when I'm exposed to commercial radio. "This is still a pretty good song," I've thought to myself. I'd suggest that it was Adam Levine's master plan all along to create a few catchy songs with lyrics and melodies that took longer than five minutes to craft (trojan horses, if you will) and leave the rest to a seventh-grader. Except that if he or the other members of Maroon 5 realized the inadequacy of most of their songs, they would've front-loaded the album with the four singles instead of making them tracks one, two, four and eight.
If there's any saving grace to the rest of this album, it's that The Office and Parks & Recreation star Rashida Jones sings backup on three of the deep cuts, a bit of trivia that had evaded me until my research. Not even Ann Perkins could nurse some of it back to health, though.
In the deepest valleys of the record, the limp production on lightweight songs such as "Sweetest Goodbye" and clunky lines like "you're a helpless victim of a spider's web and I'm an insect" are as unfortunate as the apparent existence of a "Skrillex intro" to the live version of "Harder to Breathe," whatever that means.
I think it means that my Maroon 5 fandom is best left in 2004. I've learned that some doors are just better unopened. Oh well, we'll always have Toronto.
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