There’s something to be said for a band who knows how to make a well-crafted, thought out, and carefully mapped out album. AJR may have just made their early-career masterpiece on The Maybe Man, a record that is brimming with purpose, an ultra-personal touch, and better structurally organized than any of their previous four LPs. The Maybe Man finds the three brothers (Adam, Jack & Ryan Met) at a crossroads: they’ve just made their most commercially and critically successful record in 2021’s Ok Orchestra, the band recently announced their first arena tour, and yet the material found on this record is dripping with self-doubt. For a band that got famous with songs like “Bang!” “Weak” and the ultra-viral “World’s Smallest Violin,” the opening song/title track finds lead singer, Jack pondering vulnerably, “Wish I was a stone so I couldn’t feel / You’d yell in my face, it’d be no big deal / But I’d miss the way we make up and smile / Don’t wanna be stone, I changed my mind,” while getting into heavier material (lyrically) with “God Is Really Real” that comes to terms with their father, Gary’s, untimely passing. As close as I am to my dad, I can’t imagine going through life without my own mentor, and I commend AJR for tackling this concept head on with grace on The Maybe Man.
After the crisp production of the vulnerable opening statement, “Touchy Feely Fool” follows with a more upbeat song about Jack’s own social awkwardness. Lyrics like, “Life is pretty cruel / For a touchy feely fool / I would give anything to not give a shit, but I do / I would give anything to not give a shit (about you),” paint a person focusing on the cards life has dealt him, and coming to terms with his next step forward. “Yes I’m A Mess” opens with a whistling melody before Jack’s trademark croon sets the listener at ease. The bouncy rhythm supplied by bassist, Adam, paired with the great keyboard-laced production of Ryan make for a memorable song on the front half of the LP.
“The Dumb Song” comes up next in the track sequencing and features a stellar trumpet solo in-between the verses to give a vibrant texture to the song. It slowly builds to the self-deprecating chorus of, “When we go down / When kingdom come / Don’t look at me, don’t look at me / I’m just too dumb.” Fan favorite, “Inertia,” nearly didn’t make the final cut of the record, and it’s hard to see why not. It’s one of the more creative songs on The Maybe Man and lives up to its name by providing just the right push to the finish line.
“Turning Out Pt. III” continues the self-exploration found on AJR’s last three records, and offers some additional context on the three brothers’ headspace and their reflection on how life is “turning out” for them. One of my favorite songs in the set comes in the form of The Beatles/Beach Boys-inspired “Hole in the Bottom of My Brain” that bounces along with a pop sheen to it that makes it one of the most memorable tracks the band has crafted to date.
“The DJ Is Crying For Help” was one of the first songs to be released from The Maybe Man, and features an electric-charged fiddle solo in the early stages of the song, that continues to be looped throughout the interspersing of lyrics as the single unfolds. The crowd-pleasing anthem of “I Won’t” is sure to be a live favorite when AJR maps out their setlist for The Maybe Man arena tour, which has already sold out one date at NYC’s Madison Square Garden. While the experimental “Steve’s Going to London” may play off as filler for some casual fans, it offers a brief reprieve from the heavy lyrical material found on their dad’s tribute, “God Is Really Real.” On this song that will likely be tough for the band to play live due its ultra-personal tone, Jack mentions, “My dad can’t get out of bed / There’s something in his lungs / I think that’s what the doctor said / I gotta leave for Paris now / My band goes on at 10 / And my dad can’t get out of bed.” It’s so fucking heartbreaking to listen to, as it nearly unfolds in real time, until the closing lines of, “Now it’s late, I really gotta go / And we can’t face our feelings, so we’re making lots of jokes / And we won’t cry about it, no, we’ll be manly men / ’I love you’ sounds all corny, so I wrote this song instead / I’ll sing it for you, Dad, when you get out of bed,” which further speaks to society’s expectation to be “tough” when you just want to curl up into a ball and not face life head on.
The closing track of “2085” takes getting older all in stride as the band considers what their band would look like at that year. Jack jokingly sings, “Hey, it’s 2085, and we’re old as shit, whatever / Hey, I’d hate to have to die ‘fore I get my head together, whatever.” Getting older is something we all deal with in our own ways, and yet the three brothers’ tragedy in their family leads them to a somber, yet familiar refrain of, “You gotta get better, you’re all that I’ve got / Don’t take forever, you’re not here for long.” AJR brings the closing notes back to the very beginning of the album and brings in a sweeping, orchestral overture to close out the final song on their best record to date. The Maybe Man is an album that tackles the themes of growing up, the uncertainty of life, and the eventual fate we all face (death) with charm and artistic maturity.