Jesse Jarnow

“this love” – maroon5

#5 this week, #5 last week, 15 weeks on the chart

In the upper reaches of the chart, like a team 15 games ahead of the nearest competition at All-Star Break, Usher is doing battle with himself (“Burn” and “Yeah,” flip-flopped between the first and third spots this week). It’s boring in some ways but insistently enthralling others. Meanwhile, a few slots down, there’s a surprise in store — one that I’m still not sure if I understand correctly. If their AMG entry is to be believed, Maroon5 is an actual rock band (they’ve got, y’know guitars) from New York, recording for a genuinely independent label (Octotone). It seems like a Spin Doctors story, since their album, Songs About Jane, came out in 2002. But wherever they came from, here they are.

“This Love” really does crossbreed indie and pop-circa-2004. Atop a decidedly hip-hop beat are stabbing guitars and a singer who sounds (to my ears) uncannily like Woody Ranere from Lake Trout. In fact, come to think of it, the whole package sounds like Lake Trout during the verses (kinda minimalist jungle rhythms with an assured dry melody). When they hit the chorus, Maroon5 is definitely pop — albeit made with a weird fusion of hip-hop/reggae/ska-punk (ie. those indie guitar stabs sped to stuttered upbeats and threaded with a syncopated vocal line). And if they didn’t make the point with the chorus, the all-soul bridge emphatically drives it home: they are all of these things.

But, ultimately, the switch between the verse and the eventual bridge is drastic. The mood in the verses is decidedly cool — a narrator in fine, even refined, control of himself. The chorus’s switch to sexy pop-mode works. The singer is still playing high status (“her heart is breaking in front of me”), or trying to, but then comes that bridge, where the singer breaks down to pleading (“I’ll fix these broken things, repair your broken wings, and make sure everything’s alright…”) and reveals in his inner softy who’s happy to, say, listen to Enya if it makes his girlfriend happy. It’s a cool little trick of musical narrative.

It’s also kind of a depressing song, a break-up song or maybe a make-up-in-resignation song. There haven’t been many of those, at least while I’ve been watching the charts, and I wonder what that means in relation to the national psyche (or maybe just in relation to the psyche of the Independent Promoters and other keepers of the gated playlists). And just in time for summer, too, huh? I gotta admit, I’m confused on that level, however well the song is written (and, as the song cycles for its eighth play on iTunes, I’ve come to admit that it’s quite clever). No shit? Does this turn in mood have anything to do with a turn in current events? The UFOs’ arrival over Mexico? That’s probably a stupid assumption to make. The only thing to do, I suppose, is to keep watching the skies.