Earlier this month, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine said something that left me completely dumbstruck. Speaking with Apple Music interviewer Zane Lowe, Levine opined that there are no bands anymore.
Of all the people who could make this statement – and to be clear, the statement is not wrong – Adam Levine is the wrong man for the task. This is akin to a large iceberg demanding justice for sunken luxury-liner ships. Few lead singers have been as smotheringly on top of his band as Levine. If there are no bands anymore, one could facetiously look to Maroon 5 as a prime example of a cautionary tale of why.
Not the only one, though. There was Matchbox 20, being Rob Thomas and a bunch of guys; or Coldplay, being Chris Martin and a bunch of guys, although Jonny Buckland tries his best to not let that happen. I don’t want this to be a veiled slam against Matchbox 20, as I think they were a reliably decent band, but when Thomas went solo, the resulting work wasn’t that much different. It was not like he was being held back.
But I can say that, as far as musicality is concerned, Levine is the weakest link in Maroon 5’s chain. I think he knows it, too, and has known it ever since the Kara’s Flowers days. Much as I say the opposite, he’s not a bad singer. He’s a unique singer in the way that you don’t want him singing in an acapella setting. You don’t want Donald Fagen singing acapella either, but he’s perfect in the context of Steely Dan. The big – huge, even – difference is that few bands toiled and tormented about musicality the way Steely Dan did.
Listening to Songs About Jane again, one realizes how talented the band is. If Levine could have gotten out of his genitalia’s way, this album, arguably their best, would be regarded even higher. But instead, a beautiful tune like “She Will Be Loved” is saddled with gross sentiments suggesting this woman will never realize her self value, her self beauty until Levine’s meat tool has verified it first.
If Adam Levine actually cares about the existence of bands, he could prove it with Maroon 5’s forthcoming next album by giving these musicians more of the spotlight. Is that going to happen? Are you kidding me?
There remains a question to be answered: Why has the music industry seemingly disincentivized bands in favor of solo acts? The short answer is asset management.
In the present model, all you need is a producer/beat creator and a singer. That’s only two personalities a music label has to deal with, two personalities that are tied together temporarily and, if relationships go off the rails, it doesn’t mean the end of the enterprise.
I prefer bands. I just do, but I recognize why a label – small or big, but more likely a major label – would discourage it. A band is four or five individuals with five distinct ideas of how things should be. However, typically two of the four or three of the five keep things as stable as they can while two holds up the works. You know the tales: Mick and Keef, Ray and Dave, Steven and Joe, Axl and Slash, the Bros. Gallagher. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the contracts wait to be fulfilled.
In this, a large corporation has temporarily purchased the rights to a smaller subsidiary company with four or five employees. Two of the employees are holding up productivity and disrupting the entire supply chain. The return-on-investment is looking weaker by the day.
Smart bands tend to share the writing and publishing credits equally to stem potential schisms, but that egalitarianism falls apart when a song ascends to the highest heights. You mean to tell me the drummer and keyboard player will reap equal rewards as the guitar player who wrote the song? The lead singer didn’t write the song but is closely associated with the look and sound of its performance. Should he receive the same cut as the drummer or keyboard player? Maybe we each need separate management to rework our deals, and on and on.
With these in mind, you can see why the eternal struggles within a group like Fleetwood Mac are so destabilizing. Two members who aren’t even original members comprise the center of power for the unit’s present viability. At a moment’s notice, the literal he said/she said could bring the whole thing down, and that’s why labels, by and large, prefer solo acts now.
I think this is why we should support the bands that still dare to try. There are great pressures – from the outside and inside – to monetize the parts versus honoring the whole. There may yet be a band that reverses the trend. Perhaps one day, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard will break through to the mainstream, but again, that’s unlikely. For now, we’re stuck with Adam Levine and Maroon 5, who have to tolerate his lack of self-awareness.