Hills to Die On: Maroon 5's "Songs About Jane"

Hills to Die On: In which I try to defend trivial, nonsensical things I am entitled to like despite a small but very vocal aspect of society's — i.e. the Internet's — disapproval. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters, but it's still fun to pretend that people will care about the things you are only slightly passionate about.

(Photo credit: u/amirkolta from r/vinyl)

It wasn’t until the last few months of 2019 that I realized how much I still liked this album. Forced to listen to CDs again after my old City’s bluetooth transmitter kicked the bucket, I dug up some old albums and decided to give them another chance at life. Songs About Jane was the first CD I popped into the player (because it was the only one whose CD was in the proper case, HAHA.)

Like any other late-twenties millennial out there, once upon a time, I thought Maroon 5 was the beacon of artistry. By that, I mean, at thirteen years old, I found Adam Levine hot. But, even then, I recognized how different their music sounded from the rest of the songs topping the charts. Let me set the scene: It was 2004. R&B was everywhere. Locally, everyone was crazy over acoustic-anything. The more mellow the sound, the higher the chance of it ending up on someone’s burned mix compact disc.

Enter This Love’s pulsating piano and guitar riffs within the first five seconds of the song.

Behold, a sudden rush of hormones. So this is what it feels to have your heart thumping loudly along to pulsating drums. Couple that with achingly sad, yearning lyrics all throughout the album: “I’ll fix these broken things / repair your broken wings / and make sure everything’s alright.”

I am not embarrassed to admit that Maroon 5 was my "gateway" to “accessible” rock. In sixth grade, I already had a feeling that pop and R&B were not cutting it for my faux angst; I wanted something else, something angrier and sadder and louder. But somehow, at the time, I wasn’t ready to fully embrace The Gorillaz and Linkin Park just yet. Maroon 5 hit the mark perfectly with this album, because it had lush melodies, funky guitar lines, and a solid rhythm section — which later on became the foundation of my affinity for rock music. It had lines I couldn’t relate to (yet) but Levine’s soulful wails kind of made me believe that I did. I didn’t know what it was like to be entangled in a love that had taken its toll on me… but I sure as hell could imagine how painful it was. She said goodbye too many times before. Cue faux hysteria.

I listened to this album way too much in sixth grade. But the emotional weight of this twelve-track classic hit me in college. Suddenly, after real heartbreaks, after experiencing what it meant to be trapped in relationships that just slowly stopped making sense, this album just kept firing on all cylinders. Feeling trapped? Harder to Breathe. Another fight? Shiver. A bad decision? Tangled. The calm before another storm? She Will Be Loved. Feigned reassurance? Sunday Morning.The conceit is simple: we loved once, and we loved hard. We thought it was worth saving, until it no longer was. And suddenly we are left to deal with a messy, reluctant unraveling. What do we make of all the things we fought for and all the damage it left behind?

I guess Maroon 5 still makes songs about all these feelings. (Or maybe not anymore, judging by the sad, lame "Memories" I heard on the FM once — because, again the bluetooth transmitter is busted — which is saved only by... drum roll... nothing. It is a terrible song; yeah, I said it.)  But none so powerful (or as earnest) as the ones on this album. Here, you clearly hear Jesse Carmichael’s keyboards acting as the spine holding together each verse. James Valentine is given enough spotlight to allow the guitar to sing alongside Adam. Drummer Ryan Dusick and bassist Mickey Madden do more than enough to give each song a consistent ebb and flow, reminiscent of the pushing-and-pulling that characterizes the bad romances they sing about.

It’s funny — or, actually, sad — to look at this album now, and how much it dwarfs all the succeeding albums in comparison. I liked the band enough to see them in concert in 2011 (Hands All Over era), and at the time they still weren’t that bad. But they were never Songs About Jane-good again. Which sucks, but is also kind of poetic.

Because the last time I truly listened to this album, I had my iPod plugged into some asshole’s car. Now I’m driving my own. And I’m never going to be Songs About Jane-miserable again.

Which isn't to tempt fate and say I'm never going to experience any kind of pain again. But it is to say, I’m a whole different person now. I’m no longer the sixth grader who pretended to hurt over this album; nor am I the teenager still grieving over relationships that were doomed from the start. The wake of each heartbreak eventually led me to a rude awakening: Songs About Jane is not the manual for great relationships. Unlike before, I’m no longer listening to this like a devotee living out the gospel. And thank God.

But I can listen to this album again and feel affirmed that I was young and stupid once. That once, I could claim naïveté, and revel in the invincibility of my innocence. That once, I believed being someone’s destruction also meant being their saving grace. And that once, those feelings were powerful. It made you feel alive. It’s bittersweet to remember the head space I was in when Songs About Jane still meant something to me. But even more so when I think about Maroon 5’s trajectory since this album. I don’t know if they will ever go back to this sound; I don’t even know if they acknowledge that this was the kind of music that propelled them to success in the first place. The longing, the confusion, the defiance, all contained in lush instruments that encapsulate what it means to desperately grasp on to final chances. The story-telling. This album is cohesive. (Since this album, they’ve slowly become a more singles-driven band.) Somehow, their new sound just does not capture all that.

But once upon a time, our fates — my longing and their music — intersected tangentially, and it was glorious. I’ve long stopped liking the band, but this album is a hill I am willing to die on. It’s nice to remember what it’s like to feel invincible, even in the face of a destructive, exhilarating, uncertain love. Yes, Songs About Jane — and everything that came along with it: for all it once was, and for all that it never turned out to be.

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