No clunkers clutter group's polished CD, 'Before Long'

The Baltimore Sun

It is the ideal summer CD, one glistening with infectious songs that feel as good as the sun on your face. It Won't Be Soon Before Long, the highly anticipated new album by Maroon 5, finally hit stores this week, five years after Songs About Jane, the pop band's blockbuster that sold 10 million copies worldwide.

During the gap between albums, the quintet toured extensively while recording and tweaking the new disc, which extends the effervescent blue-eyed soul approach heard on its predecessor. The grooves are heavier, the production stylishly synthesized with a slight '80s pop edge reminiscent of the Police and Hall & Oates.

The self-conscious rock elements that rippled through Songs About Jane are more streamlined this time, and each of the 12 songs is immaculately produced, expressively rendered in lead singer Adam Levine's yearning tenor. Given the mammoth success of Songs About Jane (whose popularity largely grew through word of mouth before commercial radio fell for "This Love"), it would have been easy for the band to duplicate the formula and go after the coveted but fickle teen-girl demographic.

Instead, the guys were smarter: The production sparkles with just the right amount of flash and swagger to snag the young folks. But the songs are smooth and melodic enough to sway adult listeners, those who don't mind a few hip elements but still want something tuneful and substantive. Seamlessly, Maroon 5 pulls it off.

To do it, though, the Los Angeles-based band recruited different producers. Most of the album was overseen by Mark "Spike" Stent, whose recent credits include U2, Oasis and Bjork; and Mike Elizondo, who has produced cuts for Pink and Fiona Apple.

Every song on It Won't Be Soon is radio-friendly with lively choruses that soak into your head and stay there. And that's a good thing, as the lyrics paint concise, often vivid pictures of love lost, won or imagined.

The album kicks off with "If I Never See Your Face Again," a punchy strutter that recalls Prince's early foray into funk-splashed pop. Tough grooves continue with "Makes Me Wonder" and "Little of Your Time," which sounds suspiciously like OutKast's "Hey Ya," sans the neon quirkiness. But it still works. By the fifth track -- "Won't Go Home Without You," which echoes elements of "Every Breath You Take" by the Police -- the tempo slows a bit as the rock guitars become bigger and brighter.

Unlike Songs About Jane, the instrumentation throughout the new album boasts an electronic sheen. Synthesizers are more prominent in the mix this time around. But the music still retains an organic feel, as if the notes were played by humans instead of computers. The songs breathe, never wearing out their welcome.

The album is just over 40 minutes long with each cut averaging about three minutes. So there's no room for filler. And, thankfully, Maroon 5 delivers no throwaways.

The only quibble about It Won't Be Soon is that the ballads aren't as catchy as the uptempo cuts. But they're still impeccably crafted. Listening to the album, it's clear that in the five years of touring and recording, Maroon 5 has grown comfortably into an assured band that embraces flash and melody. The band's sound now is brighter and more inviting, the music smart without a hint of calculation. It was well worth the wait.

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