Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Top Ten Desert Island Albums - Number 8

Number Eight on my list is an album that I didn’t really explore during its popular period – in fact, I avoided it specifically because it was popular, and I was being a music snob. But after one listen, I became obsessed with Maroon 5’s “Songs About Jane.”

Part of this might be that at the time, I was breaking up with a gorgeous, awesome, but emotionally messed up girl. Guess what this entire album is about – yup. You got it. Chronicling both the highs and lows of being with such an individual, there really wasn’t any song that wasn’t something I could’ve written myself, if I were an amazing singer/songwriter with a rock band.

The Band

Lead Vocals: Adam Levine.

Now world famous as a judge on “The Voice,” Adam’s high tenor was both exhilarating to listen to, and frustrating to try to sing along with. After years of working on my high range, I can now sing along with this album. His subsequent albums, with his range going ever higher? Not a chance. When I listened to this album, I could hear some definite pitch correction and studio effects. I assumed that he was one of those singers that couldn’t cut it live, and needed all the studio help he could get. I saw them live a couple of years later – he is far better live. I think the studio was there to restrain him, not help.

Keyboards: Jesse Carmichael

His keyboard playing is really simple, but his chord progressions are never trite. I always sense a touch of jazz and blues background in the voicings he uses on the keys. Listed as a songwriter on most tracks (along with Adam Levine), I assume that the chords and arrangements were largely his doing. So from that angle, quite impressive, even if there’s never a moment when the keyboard playing just blows me away. Also, I’m probably hard to impress on that front anyway.

Drums and backup vocals: Ryan Dusick

Dusick played drums only on this album, before quitting the band. I absolutely love, love, love the drums on this album. I don’t pay any attention to them on any of their later albums. His drumming was spot on, but incredibly intricate. He not only laid down the groove, but he also managed to accentuate the rhythmic nuances of the vocals and other instruments. If you were to play me only the drums on any track on this album, I could tell you the song, and most likely the exact moment in the song, as well. Matt Flynn (his replacement) is certainly a capable drummer. But to me, nowhere near as interesting.

Bass: Mickey Madden

To be honest, I got nothing here. He plays bass. Still, I bet he gets a lot of tail.

Guitar: James Valentine

I’m not a guitarist, so I always feel a little funny talking about guitar playing, as if I’m pretending to be an expert. I’m not. But still, the Funk/R&B/Rock Fusion that IS Maroon 5’s sound is largely produced at the hands of Valentine. Without him, I don’t think they would have ever found their niche. And if Adam Levine wants to call me up and tell me I’m full of shit on this… Dude, that would be awesome.

The Songs (well, the first ten of them)

Harder to Breathe (lyrics)

The beginning of the album sets the tone right away. It is angry, it is hurt, it is raw. But if you know how close love and hate can be to each other... It's right here.

This Love (lyrics)

If divorced from the music, the lyrics of this song make it seem like more of the same. But the sheer sexuality of the video and music make it clear that we're going darker. Alice is tumbling down the rabbit hole, and it's sex that is making the fall so painful. This will be a recurring theme in the album.

Shiver (lyrics)

I want you. You're just playing with me. Sometimes you want me, but it's not enough. I want you to want me as passionately and deeply as I want you. I'm going to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

This is the essence of "Shiver." And it's something that almost any man past his twenties has felt at some point. Some men realize later that this very desire and depth of passion is self-defeating. Most don't. But I've never met a man that didn't know this feeling, and couldn't think exactly of the girl and time of his life that he felt it.

She Will Be Loved (lyrics)

If there's something that almost every beautiful woman knows, it's how to make men want to rescue them. What man doesn't dream of being the White Knight? My brother warned me at an early age that the White Knight doesn't end up with the damsel, but it took a long time for me to really understand how true that was. And this song is exactly that impulse.

She's so perfect, just... lost. Come here, you poor girl. Let me show you what my love can do to make your life so much better. I'm everything you need.


Outside of fiction, that has never, and WILL never work.

The video takes an interesting twist, and adds an illicit affair with the girlfriend's mother, who is being abused. What does this have to do with the song? I have no clue, but it definitely makes for an interesting visual.

Tangled (lyrics)

The downside of getting obsessed over a girl? Well, there's a ton of them. But one of them is that your average guy thinks "if it's not working, I just need to try harder." And you end up making either an ass out of yourself, or a creepy stalker. Or both. And when you realize where you've gone, the shame is pretty bad. And usually deserved, even if the root cause is almost always misdiagnosed. This song is about being in that very spot (and sure enough, the cause is misdiagnosed). Pretty brutally honest stuff, really. Man, I'm listening to these songs as I'm writing this, and amazed again at what a great album it is.

The Sun (lyrics)

Clint Black wrote a song in the '90s called "Better Man" (unrelated to the song of the same title by Pearl Jam). Considered groundbreaking at the time, it was a different kind of breakup song. It was about how, even though things were ending, the relationship had been a positive influence on his life, and he wouldn't trade it because of this (a more melancholy reflection of this nature can be found in Garth Brooks' "The Dance").

The Sun is kind of like that. But it's not at quite the distance that either of those two songs are. It's trying to come to grips with the breakup while the wounds are still fresh and bleeding. While the memories are so fresh they're barely memories. It's about being determined to find the good when all you feel is the emptiness. The end of every chorus assures us that we're only several miles from the sun.

The science geek in me is pointing out that 93 million is more than several, but... I think the metaphor is that you keep going and you find light and warmth, and it's not as far away as you think.

Or it's the end of the world because of a Supernova. But that's probably not the intended interpretation.

Must Get Out (lyrics)

The songs in this album are not in chronological order of the story (unless it's even more convoluted than I thought). This is back to talking about how she's messed up, even though he keeps trying to help her, win her, fix her, etc. And as with virtually every song on the album, he alludes to their sex life. But it's very hopeful and optimistic about how, if they just leave the city, everything will get better.

You'd think that there was a correlation between crazy chicks and great sex. Hmm... Maybe I should write a song about that. What could I call it? How about "Crazy Chick," as in "Hey, you're a crazy chick, but you kiss so good I'm on top of it. When I dream, I'm holding you all night..." Maybe it needs more of an edge.

Sunday Morning (lyrics)

This song is about sex. Yup. That's it. Beginning to end.

An interesting note to me is that the piano part that sets the song up is jazz chord exercise that I used to do in college. Admittedly, I did it in all 12 keys, sequentially, and never thought about writing a sex song to it. But still, when I first heard it, it was like "hey, I know that!"

Also, amusingly, the video is simply people singing karaoke to the song, along with clips of them singing in a studio. I guess they couldn't really film what it was about without shooting a porno.

Secret (lyrics)

This song goes back to the very, very beginning. And once again, it's about sex. But you don't realize that until the very end. He's leaving somewhere, talking about keeping secrets. And at the very end, you realize the secret that he can't keep is how much they want each other. And everything else - just a metaphor for sex.

I wonder what the basis of his relationship was? Probably chaste intellectual conversation.

Through With You (lyrics)

This is it. He finally comes to grips with it all. Her actions aren't saying the same thing as her words. She's never going to live the "happily ever after" with him. And he realizes that if she will turn him away after giving her more than she'd ever get with another man, she doesn't deserve him anyway. And so he's done, and through with her.


There are more songs on this album (at least two, more if you got various other editions). But the first ten should highlight the emotional gist of the album.

Every man I know has had at least one relationship like this one. Most of them learn their lessons and move on. Some keep repeating the same patterns. But with all of them, it's one of the most pivotal moments of their lives. It was for me - it redefined what I thought, believed, and how I acted about relationships. I have never listened to any album before or since that so captured that journey. The fact that I heard it as I was going through the end of it... Totally captivated me.