Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 13 News List

The band people love to hate

Their debut album sold more than 10 million copies, but they can't get a good review. Why does pop-rock band Maroon 5 inspire such opprobrium?

By Angus Batey  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

In Los Angeles earlier this month. Thanks to a series of liaisons with high-profile women like Jessica Simpson, Levine is prime fodder for gossip rags.

It is possible to pinpoint the moment where everything hits Adam Levine. During one of their best-known songs, She Will Be Loved, the singer, guitarist and principal songwriter in Maroon 5 allows his emotions to the surface. Performing in front of a sell-out crowd at the Staples Center in the band's home city of Los Angeles, Maroon 5 pause the song. A close-up of Levine's face flashes on to the screens that flank the stage: is that a tear in what many suppose to be his gimlet eye?

"I almost did [cry]," Levine admits the following day, as he, bassist Mickey Madden and guitarist James Valentine chat over an organic meal in the bowels of San Diego's Cox Arena, another colossal sports venue the band have sold out. "I was just taking it all in. We always do that pause, but this was a very intense one." "More or less all the people involved in the making of our record were there, and our friends and families," Madden explains of the Los Angeles show. "All of the people that you wanna impress the most, the kind of people who, when you think about it, can really trip you up, or really make you play better."

This tour's emphatic success has been the long-awaited reward for one of the most misunderstood and unfairly maligned pop bands of recent years. Maroon 5's debut album, Songs About Jane, sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The follow-up, It Won't Be Soon Before Long, released in May, is closing in on 3 million sales already.

POPULISTS OR CHARLATANS?

Yet the band's rise has hardly been the serene, untroubled one such bald statistics suggest. Songs About Jane - originally released in 2002 - was the ultimate "sleeper" hit, turned into a huge success by relentless, unforgiving touring. The bonds between the core members - Levine, Madden, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael and drummer Ryan Dusick, all of whom had been friends since their early teens - were put to the test when an injury forced Dusick out of the group. Add to this a critical reception that paints them as at best opportunists, at worst cynical charlatans, and there seem plenty of good reasons for Levine and his bandmates to get emotional.

UK critics view the band with suspicion tending to derision. NME, Uncut and Mojo - magazines with clear ideas about what their readers judge to be serious rock music - did not review It Won't Be Soon.

The Guardian's review of a gig in London this year said: "They have clung to the perspective that adequate is preferable to amazing, and competence is enough to fill the charisma void."

It is difficult to see what Maroon 5 have done to attract such opprobrium. They are clearly serious about music: despite Noel Gallagher slagging them off when Maroon 5 and Oasis were paired on a UK festival bill, the Angelenos bear no ill will towards the leader of a band they all admire. And as support for this tour of enormous US venues they have chosen critics' darlings the Hives, at least in part, as Valentine explains, "because a lot of our audience is a pop radio-listening audience that might not otherwise be exposed to a band like them."

POP PERFECTION

Songs About Jane was a robust, immaculately crafted collection of pop-rock songs with nods to Stevie Wonder, U2 and Led Zeppelin. It Won't Be Soon transcends it: every verse, chorus and middle-eight has been honed to pop perfection.

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