‘Jordi:’ Maroon 5 Swap Guest Stars but Retain Every Generic Note of Their Sound
Maroon 5 may have seemed like a flash in the pan when they released “Songs About Jane” back in 2003, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they’ve endured, and flourished, since then. As lead vocalist, Adam Levine has an easygoing falsetto that’s easily digestible against almost any musical backdrop, and he’s extremely easy on the eyes — a line-drive of a frontman straight into the heart of the band’s fans even before he became a coach on “The Voice,” but that helped too. More importantly, however, the band’s albums seem to exude an unspoken commitment to capitulate to the most appealing, middle of the road, least challenging version of whatever sound happens to be popular at that moment, not that they were iconoclasts to begin with; songs like “Moves Like Jagger” are maddening earworms for listeners eager for more complex fare, but they attract older, less discerning music fans like catnip, and the group regularly enlists having-their-moment guest stars to seem relevant, such as Cardi B on “Girls Like You,” while they cheerfully mature into an even more bland, safer version of the Rolling Stones they purport to honor.
All of which is not to say that Maroon 5 isn’t without charm, just challenge. “Jordi” follows this familiar, possibly imperceptible progression, assembling chart-toppers and venerated collaborators for what’s become a skilled mix of soccer-mom hipness and respect-their-elders credibility. From Megan Thee Stallion to Stevie Nicks, H.E.R. to the late Nipsey Hussle and Juice WRLD, the band once again shores up its earnest pop rock bona fides with a collection of vaguely catchy songs guaranteed to maintain a commercial foothold without taking any real risks, washing over listeners like a lukewarm bath.
Like many of their contemporaries, Maroon 5 released singles as long ago as two years ago that end up on their latest full-length, a result of the pandemic that forced them to dig into the record for more material to gin up enthusiasm as the country and its dwindling music-buying economy kicks back into gear. After 2019’s “Memories” and the pandemic and George Floyd protest-inspired “Nobody’s Love” in 2020, they released “Beautiful Mistakes” in March of 2021, and it delivers a surprisingly merciless dressing down of the band’s formulas, thanks to a verse by Megan Thee Stallion; if Levine positions himself as the sexy ex you can’t get away from, Megan offers the opposite perspective, eviscerating his wishy-washing self-indulgent mourning for a relationship he couldn’t keep it together to maintain. While he sings “now we lie awake, makin’ beautiful mistakes / I wouldn’t take ‘еm back, I’m in love with the past,” she retorts “Slidin’ down the shower wall, lookin’ sad / I know it’s hard to let go, I’m the best.” Not only does she anticipate his woe-is-me scenarios, she lets him drown in them while heading full force into Hot Girl Summer.
The problem with these songs is that none of them possess any nuance. On “Lost,” Levine pays tribute to the woman who helped him find himself; “Lovesick” follows with a search for “someone like you to really take my breath away;” and with “Seasons,” he confesses, “you’re the one I would die for.” It doesn’t make these songs bad, but what are they about, and what do they have to say that thousands of others haven’t said before them? Listening to the lyrics for “Remedy,” where Levine sings “Sometimes, I feel out of my mind, but I’m not / Feels more like I’m out of my body,” it’s hard not to be reminded of Henry Fonda’s famous line in “Once Upon A Time In The West: “How can you trust a man that wears both a belt and suspenders? Man can’t even trust his own pants.” Even with Stevie Nicks thickening up harmonies on the choruses, there’s so little substance to the track that you don’t get any sense of the real feeling it’s supposed to convey. But then again, the band doubles and triples up on hitmaking super producers — in this case utilizing Boi-1da (Kanye West), but elsewhere, The Monsters & Strangerz (Halsey), Cirkut (Katy Perry), Louis Bell (Taylor Swift, Camila Cabello) — to ensure that every track on the album contains enough algorithmically-appealing melodies and arrangements to get them played endlessly, even if you can’t tell the difference between them.
Moreover, production details, like the fact that “Nobody’s Love” was as previously mentioned, inspired by the George Floyd protests and the COVID pandemic, should probably be struck from the album’s Wikipedia page; with lyrics like “You could make a grown man cry / If you ever said goodbye,” its generic brand, feel-good bowl of vanilla ice cream offers absolutely nothing to any discussion of racial equity, much less the emotional roller coaster of pandemic isolation from the last year. (Its music video of Levine smoking a joint in his Los Angeles back yard, released with a statement calling for an end on “the War on Marijuana,” further feels more self-serving than substantial.) Juice WRLD’s two appearances do the late rapper’s legacy no favors, particularly on “Can’t Leave You Alone,” where he delivers the mind-boggling lyric, “She throw the pass to the Devil and I intercept, yeah / Have you ever had a make out session with death? Yeah.” But even if Nipsey Hussle’s verse on a remix of “Memories” feels suitably reflective, performing it over a melody that basically copies Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” feels like a calculated move by the band to guarantee it gets plays at high school graduations for at least half of the next decade.
But also, who cares if this music is bland and completely unoriginal? No one seeking their CD out at Target — this isn’t even music for the streaming era — is hoping to be challenged by this band and its beautiful, ubiquitous frontman. In which case, “Jordi” is as deep and complex as audiences want, and probably as Maroon 5 is capable of. There’s something to be said for staying in your lane musically, and after almost two decades, not only is that what the band does best, it’s made them tremendously — almost unimaginably — successful. No record this year will deliver a better collection of innocuous, instantly appealing songs that all sound pretty much the same — and critics be damned, none of their fans will mind.
“Jordi” releases June 11 on Apple Music.