April 22, 2007 / 10:03 PM / 12 years ago

Radio success fuels Maroon5's "Wonder" years

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Maroon5 sure knows how to make an entrance. Or in this case, a re-entrance.

Maroon5 members Ryan Dusick (L), Mickey Madden (2ndL), Adam Levine (C) Jesse Carmichael (2ndR) and James Valentine hold their awards for best new artist, backstage at the 47th annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles February 13, 2005. More than two years after its last single appeared, the band has returned with what appears to be a bona fide out-of-the-gate smash called "Makes Me Wonder." REUTERS/Mike Blake

More than two years after its last single appeared, the band has returned with what appears to be a bona fide out-of-the-gate smash called “Makes Me Wonder.”

A rhythmic-oriented, late-‘70s-vibed track, “Makes Me Wonder” is just the third song this decade to reach the Adult Top 40 chart’s top 15 in two weeks or less. It’s a promising start for the band’s second album, “It Won’t Be Soon Before Too Long,” due May 22 from the band’s new label, A&M/Octone.

It’s worth considering how long it took to get the first single from “Songs About Jane,” the band’s last album and first under the Maroon5 moniker, to make an impact on radio.

Almost seven months, to be precise: “Songs” was released June 25, 2002, on Octone Records, and its first single, “Harder to Breathe,” debuted January 18, 2003, on the Modern Rock chart, peaking at No. 31 about a month later.

“Everything happened for them gradually,” A&M/Octone executive VP/head of promotions Ben Berkman said. “Maroon5 didn’t become stars overnight.”

In fact, the campaign for “Songs” lasted an unusually protracted four years, stretching through summer 2005. Throughout the process, the band endured a grueling global schedule of radio tours, promo events and regular gigging, sometimes cramming more than 250 shows into a year.

The work was necessary. “Songs” had first-week sales of less than 2,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It would take almost two years, and lots more traveling, for it to pass the 1 million-unit mark.

IN THE BEGINNING

It took nearly a decade for the band to even become Maroon5. In the early ‘90s, Adam Levine, Jesse Carmichael and Michael “Mickey” Madden made friends in their hometown of Brentwood, Calif., at the private Brentwood School.

Hooking up with Ryan Dusick — another, slightly older schoolmate — in 1994, they formed a grunge-influenced alternative rock band known as Kara’s Flowers. The group signed to Reprise Records and released the album “The Fourth World” in 1997.

The Reprise effort went nowhere, and the band members soon went their (mostly) separate ways.

Levine and Carmichael tried to make a go of it studying on the East Coast. College degrees didn’t exactly pan out, but a new appreciation for hip-hop, soul, gospel and R&B inspired a reunion with their former bandmates in Los Angeles.

After the addition of Lincoln, Neb., transplant James Valentine to the lineup in 2000 and a name change, the newly anointed Maroon5 was granted a second chance, by an upstart label known as Octone Records.

The band was already at year seven when it cut “Songs About Jane” in 2001. And that’s when the real work began. From the time “Songs” hit stores in June 2002, Maroon5 was on the move.

While getting “Harder to Breathe” to click on modern-rock took time, it laid the groundwork for smoother and greater success on adult top 40, where the song finally peaked in the top 20 in July 2003.

In the spring of 2004, the band’s second single, “This Love,” became Maroon5’s first No. 1 single (on the Adult Top 40 chart), and the album crossed the million-sales threshold.

By summer 2004, third single “She Will Be Loved” proved itself another No. 1 smash in the United States, and the band surpassed 2 million in sales.

From that point on, Maroon5 was a bona fide juggernaut. Domestic sales of “Songs” stand at 4.3 million copies.

STARTING ANEW

By August 2005, as the band at last wrapped its touring and promotional work for the album, the perpetual motion of the “Songs” cycle had taken its toll.

“We were fried,” lead vocalist and primary songwriter Levine said. “We had to throw in the towel, because we were becoming ghosts of the people we once were. Everything was so dialed-in and so automatic. It didn’t feel right. It felt like it was time to move on.”

Meanwhile, drummer Dusick had reaggravated an old sports injury due to the repetitive stress of drumming. Matt Flynn took on the role of fill-in drummer at that point, but Dusick never really recovered, leaving the band for good in September 2006.

“It was traumatic,” Levine said. “We were losing a soldier.”

The band took off for only about a month. By October 2005, the members were together at superstar producer Rick Rubin’s Southern California “Houdini” mansion to write new material.

“Jesse and Adam actually lived up there,” Madden said, “and all told I think we spent about three months there working out material. The bulk of the new album was written by the time we left.”

The group segued into regular studio sessions in February 2006, choosing to work on material in three distinct parts, with a number of producers.

Based on the handful of tracks played for Billboard, “It Won’t Be Soon Before Too Long” covers a lot of stylistic ground, moving from the Latin rhythms and synth swirls of front-and-center opener “If I Never See Your Face” to the “Every Breath You Take”-styled balladry of “Won’t Go Home Without You.” Elsewhere, the soulful, uptempo piano-based groove of “Wake Up Call” conjures everything from Prince and Justin Timberlake to “Off the Wall”-era Michael Jackson, but still sounds fresh and assured.

But for all the new touches, the album — which wrapped before Octone jumped from Sony BMG to Universal to become A&M/Octone — isn’t a drastic departure from “Songs About Jane.”

Flynn said, “I think it would be stupid if it was a departure, to be honest.”

Time will tell if music critics — never cheerleaders for the band — warm up this time around.

“I understand why they don’t like us,” Levine said. “We’re very hard to like — we make accessible pop music, and girls like us. These elements do not make for critical success. But there are 50 critics and 80 billion people, so I don’t really care.”

Later, though, Levine acknowledged that the critical indifference hurts at times. “I hope they get the new one, and I think they will,” the singer said.

Reuters/Billboard

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