Halfway through my interview with Adam Levine, the frontman of the Los Angeles quintet Maroon 5, he turns to me and grins. "Why are you laughing? I feel like you're kind of astonished, slightly surprised, that I'm not an idiot or something."
We may have got off on the wrong foot. To be fair, I have been giving him a hard time since we sat down to chat in a plush Park Lane hotel room. But it's just so easy to, isn't it? Maroon 5, despite their success (three times Grammy winners, more than 15 million worldwide album sales), remain an easy target.
Their music – polished, inoffensive funk-pop-rock – has never been a big hit with the critics. With their heavily female fan base, they have a reputation for being little more than a boy band, albeit a boy band who write their own music and play their own instruments. Serious acclaim has remained elusive.
So can they change people's minds with their new album, their third, Hands All Over? For the album the Californians jetted over to the producer Robert "Mutt" Lange's studio in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, where they spent two months writing and recording. Lange is the man who produced AC/DC's Back in Black and Def Leppard's Pyromania, and Levine is delighted with the end result. "I think it's a great record and I think that the songs are really well-crafted and they sound good and are presented in a cool, unique way. I think it sounds modern, I think it sounds like a fresh perspective on old ideas. Yeah, I think it's a great record. I think everyone's gonna really like it, actually. I think it's our best record. I always think that, it's my job."
Levine describes Hands All Over as "honest" and shares the personal experiences that inspired the album. "This year, I was going through some weird stuff – I turned 30 and I was going through a lot of different things, coming to terms with certain things, while friends, ex-girlfriends were getting married and pregnant."
He continues, "I have Peter Pan syndrome, I guess, I don't really want to grow up. I think that when I turned 30, it forced me to mature in some ways and still maintain my childish ways in others. It's good, you know, I went through a lot and we were in Switzerland making a record with this amazing guy who's an incredible producer and a really inspiring guy. He kind of pushed us really hard to do the best we possibly could and I think that that's all you can ever do in this life, right?"
But on closer inspection, the boys haven't really graduated from the same thing they've always written about: women. Fancying women, bedding women, being rejected by women. Isn't it becoming a bit boring? Are they capable of addressing anything else in their writing?
Their debut album, Songs about Jane, consisted of "sinking fingertips" and "sharing skin"; on their second album, It Won't Be Soon Before Long, Levine sung about, "The taste of her breath, I'll never get over." Now, on "Misery", the first single from Hands All Over, he covers "The way it feels to be completely intertwined."
Levine defends his subject matter, however. "It seems like men and women misunderstand each other most of the time and that is definitely a source of a lot of turmoil in people's lives and frustrations. I think it's a really important thing, there's just a disconnect sometimes, but then there are also amazing connections that you have, so it's this weird kind of double-edged sword, and I think people would be lying if they said that it didn't consume them to some extent. As cheesy as it sounds, love and the failure of love is kind of a central theme in a lot of people's lives. You know, it can build you up or it can break you down, it can do a lot of different things to you, it's very dynamic in its capability, so I love to write about it because it's kind of a big deal." Although he does conclude, "I need to find something else to harp on about, you know, I am aware of that."
As well as the lyrical preoccupation with the ladies, there are also the constant images and videos casting Levine as a sort of lothario. The video for their biggest hit to date, 2003's "This Love", consisted of Levine rolling around a bed half-naked while kissing a hot model. The video for "Misery" consists of Levine running all over town and kissing a hot model. The cover for their new album features, you guessed it, a half-naked and hot model. Isn't it getting a bit, well, farcical?
Levine laughs and nods: "It is absolutely ridiculous at this point. We're ready to change that. Definitely. I don't know if I can stomach doing that again. But, you know what? There are some amazing things on the horizon; we have some pretty cool ideas about this record. We want to change things up, absolutely, it's getting a bit tired. I don't think anyone on planet Earth wants to see me kissing another girl."
Maroon 5 have achieved everything a band usually wants to achieve and passed all the usual milestones of a successful band: the huge record sales, performing on Saturday Night Live, worldwide tours, appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The only thing left to conquer, really, is the critics.
When asked about his favourite bands, Levine says he thinks that The Rolling Stones are still the best band in the world today. He also mentions Arcade Fire. I ask him if he would like to be in a respected band such as Arcade Fire, a band that has it all: huge commercial success alongside critical acclaim.
"It's so much better to always feel like you have something to say or prove, you know?", he points out. "Music criticism is the most irrelevant criticism in the history of all criticism. It's like, who cares what you think? Especially if there are millions of people who love what you do, fuck you, who cares? If I were to live and die by criticism, I would be way dead. So it doesn't really... Yeah, it bugs me, I'd love to be heralded, I'd love to be considered some boy genius of rock'n'roll, that'd be awesome, but I'm not and that's fine. I know my own worth, it's OK. I'm not gonna cry about it."
Before anyone feels too sorry for him, it's pretty clear that Levine has a most enviable lifestyle. He does what he loves, he's handsome, he's rich and he has a gorgeous model girlfriend (naturally). Perhaps it is this that winds people up. I like Levine, though. He's totally honest and quite prepared to laugh at himself and how people see him.
After the interview, I'm waiting in the hallway for the lift down to the lobby. Levine saunters past me on his way to get some sleep in his suite. "You are so mean," he jokes. "Really." When I protest he simply shrugs and laughs: "It's cool, I can handle it."
Maroon 5's new album, 'Hands All Over', is out now. They tour the UK next February (Maroon5.com)Reuse content