Blame the ever-widening gulfs between how music is made and consumed, but there just aren’t many great “before they were stars” stories in pop music these days. I’m not talking about Lady Gaga’s college piano recitals, but those insane tales of future talents toughing it out in the mainstream machine. For instance, did anyone who happened upon Gregg Alexander’s debut album Michigan Rain in 1989 predict Alexander’s New Radicals project in the late ’90s? Did anyone thumbing through Blender‘s October 2004 issue think about that singer cutting an ultimately unreleased album with pop production team The Matrix and imagine her shooting whipped cream out of her chest?
Right now, pop’s lengthiest survival story would be that of the boys from Kara’s Flowers, a My First Weezer kind of power-pop band whose sole album, The Fourth World, sank with nary a whisper in 1997. The band, comprised of four high school seniors who’d been performing together for a few years, ended up adding a guitarist and swapping the three-chord crunch for some white-bread pop-funk as Maroon 5, whose fourth album, the not at all ironically titled Overexposed, is available today.
While Maroon 5 is best known today for frontman Adam Levine – he of the perennial Don Johnson-esque neckbeard, the keening vocals, the judge slot on The Voice and the tendency to date gorgeous supermodels – he was only one baby-faced quarter of the dispassionately sunny Kara’s Flowers. Along with schoolmates and future Maroon 5ers Jesse Carmichael (guitars – he would switch to keyboards in Maroon 5 when James Valentine joined), Mickey Madden (bass) and Ryan Dusick (drums – he bowed out of Maroon 5 in 2006 due to injury), Levine was crafting a truly bizarre blend of pop music. Sure, those sugary hooks and effortlessly layered vocals (aided Green Day producer Rob Cavallo’s influence, no doubt). But where their contemporaries were more invested in singing about…nothing, really.[youtube id=”DefUa6gd5Qg” width=”600″ height=”350″]
For all its occasionally earworm-ready tunes, The Fourth World has some of the worst lyrics to find their way into Western pop music. “The children had the time/To overthrow the slime,” Levine coolly declares on lead single “Soap Disco,” clearly unaware of the millions of dollars he’d someday make writing lite-FM love songs and dance tunes about Mick Jagger. The otherwise pretty “Future Kid” denounces ’80s children’s toy Teddy Ruxpin as – gasp! – “a whore.” An infinite number of Michael Stipes at an infinite number of typewriters couldn’t pen lyrics this comically obtuse. (Granted, the members of the band have been just as dismissive of the Kara’s Flowers years, comparing the lyrical content to an episode of Sesame Street. But at least the kids at The Peach Pit would look more enthused if R.E.M. stopped by to play a gig.)
If nothing else, though, Kara’s Flowers and their brilliant red dwarf of a record provide a hint or two at what a likable, if middle-of-the-road, group Maroon 5 would become. Even in those lost years when grunge and Britpop were on their way out, the men who would be pop/rock kings had a pretty good thing going – albeit one that nobody seems to miss.