It Won’t Be Soon Before Long
addishness is one of the few character flaws that the pop and indie universes afford the proper respect. For a while in the ‘90s it exerted a glamour that proved irresistible to characters as disparate as Dean Wareham and Stephen Malkmus, both of whom depended on their smarts to coat their most trenchant volleys in the sex wars with the melodic prettiness and croaked vocals no girl (or boy) can resist. Don’t confuse a cad with an asshole: a cad, at his most self-assured, shows restraint because he’s getting laid anyway; an asshole like Greg Dulli can say what he wants because he already fucked his girlfriend/wife/whatever and, unless she’s into angry-sex, won’t get any from her again.
Still, as Avril Lavigne’s hits have demonstrated (“Girlfriend” is the purest example), the line is pretty thin. Enter Adam Levine’s band Maroon 5, best known for its sleeper hits “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved.” Thanks to a healthy afterlife as a ring tone, the latter enjoys a modest reputation as a standard, even though I suspect most fans missed this Levine-ism: “It's not always rainbows and butterflies / It's compromise that moves us along.” Amidst the gauzy curlicues and romantic bromides this is a remark of surprising sobriety. A refutation of caddishness? Nah. With the cumbersomely titled It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, Levine posits himself as a post-cad of sorts: he’s got game, or something, but he’s still bored; in one case, his boredom even takes a homicidal turn (the weird, chipper “Wake Up Call”).
Were the album as sleek and steely as “Makes Me Wonder,” we would be crowning and mitering Maroon 5 as master purveyors of white-boy funk, as buoyant as Justin Timberlake’s but not as crass (Justin wants to love you down, Adam Levine wants to make sure you catch him undressing you with his eyes). He gets away with transforming the most un-erotic of fruit into an excuse to fuse clipped drums, Nile Rodgers-tastic rhythm guitars, and a solo that the Eddie Van Halen of “Beat It” would have admired (“Kiwi”). But let’s be clear: Eddie has execrable taste. That “Beat It” solo doesn’t “rock”; it nods towards Michael Jackson’s idea of rock (Quincy Jones let it be known that Eddie wasn’t the only soloist in his Rolodex). It Won’t Be Soon To Long embodies the same dilemma: just cuz Levine and his mates can buy soul (and rock) with a gold American Express doesn’t mean that they’ve got it. Is this why they’re insecure enough to turn the hard-strummed acoustics of “Little of Your Time” all the way up in the mix?
Still, it’s lucky for Levine that his sui generis alto-burr can't project ardor; like any nascent pussyhound who hides his expensive hair gel from his homely bandmates (observing the Rob Sheffield Dictum, Levine doesn’t get upstaged by always surrounding himself with much uglier men in public), he revels in caddishness not just for its own sake, but because he's learned that girls find it hot. At their infrequent best his songs’ schizoid chordal and tempo changes reflect his honest confusion, like the grace with which “Can’t Stop” transforms into the Police’s “Walking on the Moon,” garnished with a James Valentine solo too filthy for Andy Summer’s discriminate fingers. That’s our Adam—he can start being nasty only after he’s wooed you with rainbows and flowers. Or bored you.
Otherwise we get songs as interchangeable as their titles, about women as interchangeable as the waitresses Levine still wishes he could pick up (“Nothing Lasts Forever” has the grace to interpolate Levine’s own contribution to Kanye West’s “Heard’em Say” to a far blander context). If songs as great as “Kiwi” expose him as asshole enough to ask you to smell his finger, the rest prove that for Levine caddishness and sensitive are interchangeable. Boy, is he wrong. Not only do the little girls understand, they’re charting singles in the Top Ten.