It’s hard to think of another extant artist that’s been so big for so long while remaining as characterless as Maroon 5. Jordi is their seventh studio album: every one of its predecessors has sold a million copies in the US alone, at least. The anonymity of the members who aren’t frontman Adam Levine is a longstanding joke – you do rather imagine them arriving at rehearsals, staring at each other blankly and asking “sorry, can I help you?”
Furthermore, theirs is music that appears to be fuelled by nothing deeper than a desire to become – and stay – as commercially successful as possible. Most artists carry a hint of their listening habits in their sound, but Maroon 5 seem so beholden to current trends in mainstream pop that it’s genuinely hard to work out what their influences might be. The vague waft of Jamiroquai that haunted their early albums was jettisoned a decade ago, when a battalion of co-writers and producers arrived on the scene. Adam Levine occasionally sounds like Colin Hay, frontman of 80s Aussie hitmakers Men at Work, but that’s probably just a coincidence. Certainly, they never bother with the kind of lunges towards the left field that occasionally manifest themselves in the work of, say, Coldplay: Maroon 5’s fans can sleep easy, untroubled by the fear of chancing upon a production credit for Brian Eno or a horn arrangement by Femi Kuti.
To which Maroon 5 might reasonably respond: well, that’s not what we’re there for, stupid – glossily depthless pop is our business, and business is booming to the tune of 120m records sold. But were they going to come up with something more substantial, Jordi might be the moment, and not merely because in the years since 2017’s Red Pill Blues, the world has encountered a few notable news events. Closer to the band, their manager Jordan Feldstein – Levine’s childhood friend – died suddenly around the time of Red Pill Blues’ release, and last year bassist Mickey Madden went “on hiatus” after being arrested on domestic violence charges.
Initial signs suggested that global and personal turbulence had indeed made its mark. Jordi is named for Feldstein, also the subject of single Memories, which sets broad brushstroke grief – “a toast to the ones we lost on the way, because the drinks bring back the memories and the memories bring back you” – to a version of the chords from Pachelbel’s Canon. Another single, Nobody’s Love, was trailed as inspired by the Covid pandemic and the George Floyd protests, which was just as well, as you’d never have worked that out from the lyrics: “Baby you’re the key to my heart locket … if you ever left I’d go psychotic.” Even the suggestion of a song about something weighty was enough to scare off the people who buy Maroon 5 records: it failed to make the US Top 40.
Said people should be reassured by the rest of Jordi, which elects to stay in its lane: a plethora of well-worn 21st-century pop tropes – tropical house sounds, post-Tame Impala floaty synths – but nothing you would describe as novel in the music or lyrics; the band as blank canvas, reliant on guest artists to inject personality and songwriters and producers to come up with the goods.
The guests do their job: Zimbabwean rapper Bantu sounds impressively fiery on One Light, and the closest the album comes to a surprise is when Megan Thee Stallion starts singing, in a sweet voice, on Beautiful Mistakes. But they sometimes have to work against the odds: like everything else here, Stevie Nicks’ contribution to Remedy ends up swamped in Auto-Tune, rendering one of the most distinctive pop voices of the last 50 years rather less distinctive.
The writers, meanwhile, turn up mob-handed: 49 of them, seven of whom were involved in the construction of Memories alone, which – given that its construction comprises a 400-year-old chord sequence that is already a feature of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger, Village People’s Go West, the Farm’s All Together Now, Ralph McTell’s Streets of London and Coolio’s See You When You Get There – seems a mind-blowing notion, although in fairness, it’s the catchiest thing here.
The rest is a mixed bag. There are songs with melodies that click – Can’t Leave You Alone; Convince Me Otherwise – although none in the bulletproof style of Moves Like Jagger or Sugar. There are songs that feel too calculated for their own good. Seasons’ hazy textures are appealing, but there’s an audible desperation about its desire to be a summer hit: it metaphorically keeps eagerly offering to rub suncream on your back and asking if you want a Calippo. And there are vast tranches of stuff that sounds like the nondescript music you hear when you take your headphones off in a shopping centre.
It’s booming business as usual: success by dint of giving people exactly what they expect, that makes you wonder whether people should expect more from pop.
What Alexis listened to this week
The self-styled Afronaut offers up a joyous primary-colour splurge of psychedelic soul.