Maroon 5 sucks. That’s the common sentiment among many people I know, even those that enjoy stupid pop music like myself. And myself? Yeah, I think they pretty much suck. That wasn’t always necessarily the case, although it mostly has been for the majority of the 19 years during which Maroon 5 has released their seven albums. The band spawned, with much of the lineup that has defined it, from the LA music scene as Kara’s Flowers, releasing three records to little success from 1995 to 1999 (not ranked here because, well, they’re not “Maroon 5 albums”). Its members, led by frontman Adam Levine, regrouped, added guitarist James Valentine, and became Maroon 5. The story since the release of their debut, SONGS ABOUT JANE, has only become more dire. What started out as a group with a clever approach to pop music that, admittedly, sold it with a healthy amount of cheese, has become all fermented milk, leading up to the impetus for this piece, JORDI, released on June 11, 2021. OK, that was a bad metaphor. But the fact (or my opinion) remains that Maroon 5 lost their way long ago, while many would contend they were never good in the first place. I’ll get into what I think of the group’s discography in short order, omitting the various EPs, live albums, and compilations to come from the apparently ubiquitous, loved-and-hated Maroon 5.
#7 — V (2014)
Favorite track: “Sugar”
I say ubiquitous because Maroon 5 has maintained a domination of pop airwaves with huge hits, augmented by Levine’s increasingly insufferable appearances in roles like a judge on THE VOICE (2011-present) and being his money-fueled self during Super Bowl halftime shows. Maroon 5’s fifth album, creatively titled V, was the nadir of the band’s uber-pop music and image. Its big hit, “Sugar,” is the lively single among a malaise of overproduction and slower grooves. V started a current era of Maroon 5 albums that are bland and, sure, yeah, “chiller.” V barely pulls out a “love to hate because it’s so catchy” track with the aforementioned “Sugar,” but the rest of it is not only annoying in the moment, it’s also ultimately forgettable.
#6 — RED PILL BLUES (2017)
Favorite track: “Closure”
I remember seeing the cover of RED PILL BLUES and thinking to myself “there are seven guys in this band?” (besides the cringe of the embarrassment from the album’s name and Snapchat filters on the dudes’ faces). Since, Maroon 5 has been reduced to “just” six, as bassist Mickey Madden was arrested for domestic violence charges in 2020 (yikes). But of course, there weren’t just seven people involved in the creation of this record. Indeed, it makes me wonder what the “guitarist” and “bassist” and “drummer” really do on most of these songs. RED PILL BLUES continued the vibes of its predecessor, V, bringing the synthetic pop production that Maroon 5 has embraced for years to even more downtempo, spacey songs that don’t even capture your ears, willing or not, with strong hooks. Starting with RED PILL BLUES, I started to wonder who the hardcore Maroon 5 fans even are anymore. The past couple albums have seemed to not produce the mega hits of the kind from the first half of the band’s releases, but maybe that’s relative to the universal airplay of tracks like “Moves Like Jagger” and such. Because, yeah, RED PILL BLUES did go platinum. It’s not like Maroon 5 has sunk into obscurity. Again, though, I just don’t know anyone that likes them anymore. Apparently those people are out there, though, and I guess I’ve contributed to that “album-equivalent” metric that defines record sales tracking nowadays. But in regards to RED PILL BLUES’ own quality: not good, more pop malaise from V. The one exception is “Closure.” If you told me I’d like an 11-minute Maroon 5 song from 2017, I’d think you severely underrated my taste in music. But revisiting the album now, I actually appreciated its extended instrumental jam and groove, which makes up most of the track; the initial part is just fine, I guess. It reminds me that Maroon 5 could still be capable of producing slick pop music, the kind of slick that has some strong footholds rather than the kind of slick that just slides on past without making much of an impression. Man, I’m really on fire with the metaphors today.
#5 — OVEREXPOSED (2012)
Favorite track: “Payphone”
Maroon 5 attempted to make a clever commentary on their radio ubiquity with the title of OVEREXPOSED, responding to the success of tracks like “Moves Like Jagger” and “Misery” over the past couple years preceding this record. But rather than changing tack and trying to subvert expectations, besides attempting a “tongue-in-cheek” reference in name only, the band just kept on its trend of shallowness. The difference between OVEREXPOSED and, say, its predecessor HANDS ALL OVER, however, is that its shallow shit isn’t even as fun or catchy on a stupid level. I think OVEREXPOSED doesn’t provoke the confusion I faced with RED PILL BLUES or V, as it contains a decent number of hits with earworm potential. “Payphone” is the strongest example, even though “One More Night” or “Love Somebody” may have been the bigger singles, in terms of how often I heard them at the time. But it still strongly marked the rapid decline in Maroon 5’s “artistic” credibility, if you can call it that; these songs, silly as the same type of tracks were even on HANDS ALL OVER, simply weren’t as good.
#4 — JORDI (2021)
Favorite track: “Remedy”
OK, sure, JORDI, Maroon 5’s seventh album and their most recent at the time of this writing, revived (or maybe improved is a better word) the band’s fortunes in my eyes. However, I don’t think JORDI is some kind of return to form or critical comeback, and I don’t think it can be argued that Maroon 5 is at the point where they would have to mount a real commercial comeback, since they have nowhere to come back from yet. But in continuing the “lowkey” sound of V and RED PILL BLUES, JORDI finds a deeper pocket to exist in. This is the first record from Maroon 5 in a long time that I feel can be evaluated as a potentially worthy album-length experience, rather than a vehicle for a few catchy hits. That being said, it’s not even a particularly good album-length experience; it’s just better than all of the ones since HANDS ALL OVER. There are maybe stronger singles from those records, and I don’t know that one standout track emerges from JORDI, but I wasn’t constantly bored or annoyed by the record; just sometimes. Although I mentioned “Remedy” as my favorite track from JORDI (named, by the way, after the band’s late manager), it’s only because I have to acknowledge the whip of its chorus, and not praise the place Stevie Nicks has on the track. It’s a bit…disappointing. Still, JORDI, as a technical improvement to me after years of indifference, makes me wonder what the next few Maroon 5 records will sound like. What does an album from this band, when their respective ages near 50 or beyond (Levine is currently 42 at the time of this writing)…do?
#3 — HANDS ALL OVER (2010)
Favorite track: “Misery”
It should be mentioned, I suppose, that we still haven’t gotten to the part of this list where I even consider the albums in question good. That’s reserved for the top two, and even then it’s kind of a qualified “good.” However, I have to recognize that there are quite a few songs from HANDS ALL OVER that stick in my mind and can get me moving. Some of its sounds also approximate, albeit in a reduced form, the clear shift that Maroon 5’s second album IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG represented. And I like that album, so that’s a good thing. But yeah, as much as they were overplayed and all over the place when I was in high school (I’m 24 at the time of this writing), I can still get along with “Misery,” “Stutter,” and, to a much lesser extent, “Moves Like Jagger,” the latter actually contained within HANDS ALL OVER only in a reissued form; the single came out after the initial release of the album. HANDS ALL OVER is still not good, for the most part, but segments of its run time are kind of fun in an up-tempo manner, rather than painfully poppy as on OVEREXPOSED or basically boring on V and RED PILL BLUES.
#2 — SONGS ABOUT JANE (2002)
Favorite track: “Must Get Out”
Now, this was a difficult choice. SONGS ABOUT JANE is the clear favorite record among people that like or once liked Maroon 5, as far as I can tell. And before revisiting the band’s discography for this piece, I would have thought that was far and away the case for me as well. I’ll get to what makes its successor better soon, so I’ll try to keep this blurb on topic. SONGS ABOUT JANE was Maroon 5’s “debut,” even though they had mostly existed as Kara’s Flowers for eight years before its release and had put out three albums in that time. But under this new direction, Maroon 5 came out really strong. They immediately made a name for themselves as strong shepherds of a kind of millennial pop music that drew from rock and R&B influences, shifting some of those sounds into a pop angst viewpoint and a production style that’s incredibly friendly to radio airplay. But I don’t think SONGS ABOUT JANE is “compromised” by huge commercial considerations as Maroon 5’s subsequent albums were to be; I think it is simply a strong pop rock album, one that is a bit more straightforward in its approach. I mean, you can hear real instrumentation on this album. There are so many great tracks on SONGS ABOUT JANE, and I don’t think there’s any filler on it at all. “Must Get Out” gets special attention because of the appreciation I had for it as a kid (the ballad just got to me), but of course “Harder to Breathe” and “This Love” are worthy as the big big hits from the album. I think SONGS ABOUT JANE is as strong as it is because it alternates driving pop with really strong hooks, as with “Harder to Breathe,” and softer pop with, well, really strong hooks, as with “This Love.” That one-two punch kicks off the album, and that vibe is continued through SONGS ABOUT JANE, making it, nearly, still the strongest Maroon 5 record to date.
#1 — IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG (2007)
Favorite track: “Little of Your Time”
But in an upset surprising even to me, I like IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG more. I respect SONGS ABOUT JANE more, but I’d rather listen to IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG if I could only listen to one Maroon 5 album. And really, these two are the only ones really worth listening to. Still, I don’t think Maroon 5 has yet made a great album; even IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG is qualified as the best Maroon 5 has to offer at this time, which isn’t even in the upper echelon of modern pop music. However, it’s a really fun listen. IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG was the band’s second album, coming after what is still the biggest gap between their albums (at just under five years). It really could be considered a sophomore slump; it sold worse than SONGS ABOUT JANE (although still 2x platinum in the US, as opposed to 4x) and wasn’t critically received as well. But damn if I don’t sing and move along with nearly every track on this record. After just one album in the mode that many people, especially in hindsight, really want from Maroon 5, they turned to the overwrought pop production that has defined them ever since. Sometimes, though, I really like overwrought, as is the case with IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG. SONGS ABOUT JANE may carry the sound I wish Maroon 5 could return to, but IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG showcases the strongest pop hooks the band has yet produced.