Pop Song Review: Maroon 5, “Sugar”

Love is lovely, isn’t it? Lovely, lovely love. What a splendid, charming and not-at-all dangerous or aggressive emotion. Oh, no shaking us out of our comfort zones here, no sirree. So let’s all sit down, have a nice cup of chamomile tea and review the new Maroon 5 single, “Sugar”, like the nice people we are.

First impressions: Hang on a minute – the bubblegum pop sound, the gate-crashy video… this is Katy Perry’s “Birthday“. How the… is the music industry just regurgitating its hits and hoping nobody will notice?

The music: So, The Adam Levine Band ha–sorry, Maroon 5 have decided to write a love song. Well, another one – and the theme of today’s love song is “cute”. As in, the subject matter is cute, the music is cute and gosh darnit if it isn’t all just so flipping cute. Hey, remember when Maroon 5 were an actual rock band? Weird, huh?

“Sugar” trundles along politely through an anemic pop song structure, held aloft by a shiny backdrop of keyboards and synthesised sounds set to a rigid, timid little beat carried by what I swear is not an organic set of drums. There’s a guitar player in this band but stone me if I can hear any guitar through the sheer coat of polish that’s been slapped on to this song. I think I can hear a bass guitar poking its way through the gloss, though that might just be my heart beating in my ear as an ultimatum.

Of course, Maroon 5 are a band now in the same sense Wings were to Paul McCartney. Adam Levine’s vocals are given top billing here, hovering over the sparser verses and rising to a falsetto when the music dresses itself up a bit for the chorus. His voice even gets its own spotlight for the middle-eight, as if it needs another one, as the instruments all but completely fade away for a moment like they’re saying, “were we ever needed here?”

Then it leads to that chorus and… oh jeez. You know, I’m not sure there even is a chorus here. I mean, there’s a bridge, a slight change in the melody, Levine goes falsetto and the music swells a little, but otherwise the chords don’t change all that much, there’s no big rush (which is strange for a song titled “Sugar”) and, if it weren’t for the bridge, I’d just assume it was another verse, which it might as well be. It’s a chorus but it isn’t a chorus: it just passes through with no effect on anything around it, no emotional impact on anyone who heard it and no mark to indicate it was ever there. It’s the musical equivalent of a ghosty.

Look, I get that this is supposed to be “happy” music, as evidenced by all the major chords, the chirpiness of the vocals and the simplicity of the song. And you know what? Yes, there’s nothing wrong with silly love songs, and sometimes the simpler and chirpier the song the better. But “Sugar” isn’t simply because it knows that’s what works, it’s simple because it’s lazy. Listen to that McCartney song I linked to. Just listen to just how much is going on in that song: the strings, the horns, the shifts in structure and melody, the bass groove… not to mention that the song has an original and intriguing point to make.

And I’m not taking any “but he’s a Beatle” arguments – no, you’re not Paul McCartney, but why not try and be? Because it’ll be hard? Punching above your weight class is what being an artist is all about, and if you can’t push yourself to at least try and be the best, get out of the ring. Admittedly if Maroon 5 pushed themselves any further they’d fall over and fly off with the breeze, but the fact they’re not even trying shows just how cynical this whole endeavour is. This isn’t a song trying to win your heart, this is a song handing you a cheap box of chocolates in the hopes that you’ll do all the work in bed later.

And yes, that chorus melody is remarkably similar to Katy Perry’s “Birthday”. In fact the whole song is reminiscent of “Birthday”, except somehow even less interesting than that half-witted piece of nothingness. I would argue that Maroon 5 have reached the “Invisible Touch” stage of their career, but that analogy would require me to make comparisons between early Maroon 5 and early Genesis – a mistake a man only makes once in his life and, frankly, I’d still rather not make it. Also, “Invisible Touch” is a decent song.

The lyrics: It’s about love. Bet you didn’t see that one coming? Now, I’d wager that most songs are about love, but the best songs can take the subject and give it a new twist to make the listener think differently about such an overdone subject; or they can inject it with a fierce sense of personal experience, plumbing the very depths of their soul and facing their innermost feelings, to intensify the emotional resonance of the music. Or they can just string out the same Hallmark card clichés everyone and their gran has scribbled out at one point or another, just so the singer has something to squawk about for three to four contractually-obligated minutes. Take a wild guess which direction Maroon 5 went with for “Sugar”.

“I’m hurting, baby, I’m broken down / I need your loving, loving, I need it now.” “Down” and “now” don’t rhyme. But yeah, he needs your love, because he doesn’t have it or something. How much more of this do I have to write again?

“When I’m without you, I’m something weak / You got me begging, begging, I’m on my knees.” “Weak” and “knees” don’t rhyme. But yeah, you make him weak at the knees. What a pleasant experience this all is. I would like to remind the reader that this is the same band that once wrote “The way it felt between your thighs / Pleasure that made you cry.”

“Sugar, yes please / Won’t you come and put it down on me?” So he means “sugar” in the sense of a pet name? I suppose it’s a little more sultry than “pookie” but it’s still tame as all hell. And what does he mean by “put it down on me?” Put what down? The sugar? You, er, you want her to put some sugar on you, in what would likely be some sort of pouring motion? Now there’s an original idea!

“My broken pieces, you pick them up / Don’t leave me hanging, hanging, come give me some.” “Up” and “some” don’t–for crying out loud, Maroon 5.

“I don’t wanna be needing your love / I just wanna be deep in your love.” A human being wrote this. A sentient, sapient human being actually sat down, wrote this out and thought, “yes, this is acceptable music lyricism and I feel perfectly at ease releasing this to a public audience.”

“Yeah, you show me good loving, make it all right / Need a little sweetness in my life.” That one line there is as close as we get to any sense of metaphor or wordplay in this song. The word of the day is “lackadaisical”, meaning “without interest, vigor or determination; listless; lethargic.”

Verdict: I honestly didn’t think Maroon 5 had any more capacity to dilute their sound, mostly because I didn’t think you could water down water. But this might just be the most pointless, boring, lazily-written waste of studio time this non-band have ever subjected their audience to. There is nothing here – nothing – that is interesting, original or worthwhile in any way, shape or form. There’s more nutritional value in an actual spoonful of sugar (plus it makes the medicine go down, and if you’re listening to Maroon 5 on a regular basis I imagine you’re taking it for something). 1 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones. Great stuff, isn’t it? Just imagine, if we stopped letting little girls dictate the music industry, we could have this again.

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