Regardless of how you feel about Maroon 5 and their ubiquitous frontman Adam Levine’s adenoidal voice, one thing is for certain: they know how to craft massively catchy singles. Even those with only a cursory awareness of contemporary pop music will have heard the majority of the songs collected here on Singles, their first full-blown hits collection. That they continue to resonate well over a decade into the band’s career is a testament to the strength of their material. And while they have, in recent years, somewhat oversaturated the market, the fact remains that they are genuinely reliable hit-makers, a rare feat in an era of one-hit wonders, internet “sensations” and pop also-rans. Their continued success and chart dominance feels transported from an earlier era, making them one of the few true pop stars operating today.
Even presented out of chronological order, as is the case with Singles, these songs show a band brimming with confidence from the start. Opening track “This Love,” the massively successful second single from their equally impressive major label debut, Songs About Jane, comes charging right out of the gate with its highly danceable brand of collegiate funk pop. And while those who have been (over)exposed to these songs will perhaps know them all too well, hearing them in this new context, freed from chronological constraints, will help underscore the consistency of quality in terms of these songs as singles.
Avoiding a chronological running order is generally perceived as detrimental when packaging a group’s greatest hits or singles. Without the appropriate context, a group’s evolution cannot be properly assessed. But in the case of Maroon 5, with the exception of a growing reliance on electronics and synth textures, there’s a stylistic and aesthetic consistency to the material that negates the need for any sort of linear context. Instead, the collection works best playing more as a mix of their best songs programmed on shuffle. Presented largely without rhyme or reason (only two of the five singles from Jane appear here making it more of a cherry-picked singles collection rather than a comprehensive one) Singles is a lean dozen tracks highlighting what the group does best: big, hooky, accessible pop songs.
While most critics dismiss Maroon 5 as little more than innocuous practitioners of pop, their continued chart dominance and production of quality singles simply cannot be dismissed. Freed from the context of their admittedly filler-laden albums, these singles breathe in a way they were always meant to, serving as the soundtrack to a non-stop 21st century dance party. As a package, Singles should lead to a reassessment by all the naysayers. No other contemporary group has continued to churn out singles with the quality of Maroon 5. While they might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they are an indisputably talented group of musicians and performers who have helped perpetuate the somewhat antiquated notion of the pop star into a new era.
Though Levine’s voice remains a powerful, if somewhat nasally, instrument throughout, there’s a heft and depth to the earlier singles here. From the aforementioned “This Love,” with its stuttering rhythm and stop-start funk to the U2-esque “She Will Be Loved”, his voice soars effortlessly above his musically underrated band mates. Relegated to more of a supporting role following that album’s success, the other musicians in the group slowly begin to fade into the background as the music itself moves from its more organic origins to a more electronic and programed approach.
However, the sound of Maroon 5 has been and always will be Adam Levine’s voice. The centerpiece of the majority of these singles, it serves as the group’s calling card. Cuttingly precise and capable of great heights, it’s one of, if not the most recognizable contemporary instruments. This, too, is a rare feat in an era of largely homogenous pre-fab pop singles. It’s not for nothing that Levine’s voice is one of the first instruments heard on nearly all of these singles.
Musically, they’ve always adhered to the tried and true pop formula of subdued verses leading into fist-pumping choruses virtually demanding audiences to sing along, varying little structurally. And yet despite this clearly formulaic approach to songwriting, each song manages to stand out on its own. From the once ubiquitous “Moves Like Jagger” through to the more recent “Sugar” which closes out the set, the overall consistency of material is astounding. Sure, a number of these songs rely on big dumb hooks and cringe-worthy moments (perhaps none more so than the cloying “Animals”) but a cursory look through the history of pop music while find much of the same in some of the biggest and most celebrated hits of all time.
Essentially a modern-day Bee Gees, Maroon 5 is the band the cognoscenti love to hate. But time has been kind to the formerly maligned brothers Gibb, their music now being held up as some of the best the era had to offer. Perhaps time and distance will help sway critical opinion of Maroon 5 as well. But until then, those simply looking for a collection of quality pop songs that will please the largest number of people at their next party need look no further than Singles