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Songs About Jane, an album with music and message

C. Spencer Beggs | Thursday, October 16, 2003

Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane is one of those rare albums that manages to find a middle way between the age-old problem that plagues classic rock and pop songs alike: musicality versus accessibility.

Take the opening lines from Led Zeppelin’s famous rock anthem “Whole Lotta Love:” “You need coolin’ / Baby, I’m not foolin’ / I’m gonna send you back to schoolin’.”

You need coolin’? Send you back to schoolin’? What on earth does that mean and what on earth was Robert Plant smoking that made him think that those words have any sort of meaning outside his purple haze? But “Whole Lotta Love” is a standard because classic rock songs aren’t as much about being coherent as they are about being musical.

On the other hand, pop has the exact opposite problem. Take a look at the opening lyrics to Justin Timberlake’s pop hit “Cry Me a River:” “You were my sun / You were my earth / But you didn’t know all the ways I loved you, no / So you took a chance / And made other plans / But I bet you didn’t think your thing would come crashing down, no.”

The good thing is that these lyrics make sense, but the problem is they make sense to everyone. Anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship and had someone leave them can relate to this dreck. And it’s not like Justin’s talking about anything specific here, as is witnessed by his constant addressing of songs to a vaguely defined perfect woman who is apparently named “girl.”

It seems that music aficionados are left between a rock and hard place. Rock lends itself to virtuoso musicality with obtuse and sometimes impenetrable meaning and pop revels in universal accessibility with novel, but ultimately vapid, musicality. But before music pundits declare, “Rock is rock, and pop is pop, and never the twain shall meet,” they should give Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane a couple spins in the old CD player.

The first single off of Maroon 5’s debut album, “Harder to Breathe,” has been slowly creeping up the Billboard charts and may or may not crack the top 10; the second track, “This Love,” is sure follow. The two singles are the most poppy on the album, showing off Maroon 5’s characteristic clean, crisp and upbeat sound. As much as the first two tracks stand out, Songs About Jane is tight 12-song album without any real letdowns.

Songs About Jane also shows off Maroon 5’s ability to play within the pop and rock genres. The album has an off-kilter feel to it that will keep listeners guessing at what’s coming next. Frontman Adam Levine is able to throw funky blues and hip hop sensibilities into the otherwise clean-cut tracks like “Through With You” and “Not Coming Home” and even the swirly, love-struck “Secret.” But what really makes Songs About Jane stand out among the dregs of album releases is that it manages to be a cohesive album that feels like it’s about something as well as fun to listen to.

Maroon 5 may not have revolutionized the music business overnight with the release of Songs About Jane, but they’ve managed to put together something fresh and new. Who knows? Maybe they’ll eventually send Justin Timberlake back to schoolin’.

Contact C. Spencer Beggs at beggs.3@nd.edu