It Won't Be Soon Before Long

Released in 2002, Maroon 5's Songs About Jane didn't win its new-artist Grammy until 2005, a lonely twenty-first-century monument of artist development. Descrying bankable hits in Adam Levine's love for the funk and knack for the hook, private investors and then Clive Davis worked it till it gushed oil. So the only surprising thing about It Won't Be Soon Before Long is its complete avoidance of sophomore slump. Justin Timberlake is subtler and will remain the hipster's popster — there's nothing as rhythmically profound as "My Love" here. But there's more meaty-beaty dynamite.

The debut was a breakup album, brightly surfaced but sour underneath. This one's the diary of a top dog — a multiplatinum idol with a soulful falsetto who has dated Jessica, Lindsay, Kirsten, you name her. Now Levine says he wants to have kids, but he also says the "give me something to believe in" bit in the rather nasty Jam-and-Lewis-style kiss-off "Makes Me Wonder" has a political subtext. Figure that voicing such feelings helps his dogging, and hope he doesn't mean it. Levine is too good at catchy come-ons, catchy pleas and catchy farewells to waste his sacred essence on social homilies others can do better. Instead of deep, he should work on nice.

He's getting there, too. The devilishly memorable "Won't Go Home Without You" combines confidence with affection rather than macho. "Nothing Lasts Forever" and "Better That We Break" are good-guy kiss-offs, matching their delicate rhythm figures and winsome tunes with fond thoughts, and the desperation of "Can't Stop" is too decent for self-pity or manly hissy fits. In a flusher age, Levine's handlers would be buying Caribbean islands. Now they'll at least stay in the record business.