The musical trio AJR is seemingly born and bred for making music, as their latest venture and fifth major studio album just dropped. The three brothers Adam, Jack and Ryan Met have come a long way from recording in their living room (metaphorically speaking — they seem to still record all their songs in either a hotel or their living room). Their three most recent albums document their growth as people and musicians. “The Click” (2017) tells the story of teenage drama and the pains of becoming an adult as you fail to realize that life doesn’t resemble the Disney Channel shows you grew up on. “Neotheater” (2019) is about leaving home for the first time and trying to find career success without selling out, as well as finding love in a world that doesn’t believe in karma. “OK Orchestra” (2021) is an exploration of the effects of childhood trauma and what it means for love to die in the constant race against time that is adulthood. So how does their newest release, “The Maybe Man,” stand up to and continue the story of their past discography?
The album starts off with its title song, “Maybe Man.” The song follows no standard verse-chorus structure but is instead a constant build for two-and-a-half minutes as Jack Met sings about all the things he would rather be doing that might make his life better. The song then slows down and becomes somber as Met realizes that all he can be is himself, if he only knew who that was. This constant “maybe” sets up the moral question of the album: What do I need to do to be happy? Another trend this song sets up is complete tonal shifts that happen at various points. After the comedown section, the song counts off a new tempo and the feel, sound and aesthetic completely change. It goes from a power ballad about wanting to be happy to a guy screaming “Pandemonium!!!” for a minute straight. While this isn’t unheard of for AJR to do, it feels like AJR had a cool idea for a sound they wanted to include and decided to tack it onto the end of this song.
Songs five and six are my personal favorites because they directly follow up and reference the story of their past discography. These songs reference the sounds of “The Click” with song five, “Inertia,” starting out with a click and tons of vocal modulation, while song six, “Turning Out Pt. iii,” is a follow-up to the unromanticized love songs “Turning Out” from The Click and “Turning Out Pt. II” from Neotheater.
“The Click” asks about what happens to us when we grow up, get jobs and form lasting relationships, and this question is answered in “Inertia.” The song is a waltz about becoming stuck in the same place in life as you get older. You can no longer go out and save the world or take the time to better yourself because you are too busy and tired from work. It’s too late to break up with your partner because they have already met your family and dating is the worst. All you can do is accept reality and where you are in life.
“Turning Out” is about discerning whether one likes or like-likes someone. “Pt. II” is about realizing that you might not be in love with the person you are with. “Pt. iii” continues the same questioning but when faced with grown-up decisions. Do you love this person enough to settle down, buy a house and have kids with them? Will this ease your doubt or make it worse? Are you too messed up to love someone?
“God is Really Real” is the most unique and important song on the album. The Met brothers wrote this song for their father, who passed away earlier this year. While the song features none of their usual excessive extravagance, instead backed by a lone acoustic guitar, it does contain the worst example of the tonal problem mentioned in “Maybe Man.” The song goes from cursing God to making a joke about Elon Musk and how AI is getting good at art. With that being said, it is still a heartfelt love letter to their biggest fan. This is also the most important song on the album because while all of their songs are about growing up and eventually figuring it out, this is the first one where the brothers truly realize that they might not have the rest of their lives to figure it out. They have to grow up sometime.
The album comes to a close with “2085.” An acoustic guitar carries the song but it is more joyful to reflect the brothers’ new outlook on life. The brothers look back on their lives and realize that everyone grew up while they were writing songs about it. This section of the song comes away with the message that it doesn’t matter if you figure your entire life out or how hard you work if you don’t have people you love around you to appreciate it with. The second section of the song is an answer to the first section of “Maybe Man.” The brothers are no longer asking who or what will make their lives better, but have finally realized that only they can do that; it’s time to stop saying maybe.
While not as fun as “OK Orchestra,” “The Maybe Man” is AJR’s most adult album since “Neotheater” and does a brilliant job of highlighting how far the Met brothers have come as musicians and how much they’ve grown up over the years. The maturity displayed in this album should tug on the heartstrings of any AJR fan and remind them that life is too short to try fixing all of their problems, so we ought to enjoy life while it lasts with the people we love most while they’re still here.
Congratulations on your success AJR, welcome to the Neotheater.
AJR’s latest album can be streamed here
Featured Art Courtesy of AJR Productions LLC