I tend to forget how much I like Maroon 5. They’ve been churning out solid, soulful pop hits since I was in middle school, with songs like “This Love” and “Makes Me Wonder” remaining radio staples. As a teenager decidedly into classic rock, I remember being embarrassed of how catchy I found the Los Angeles, California pop rockers. But listening with a reviewer’s bent to their newest album, 2010’s Hands All Over, it’s not hard to see why the band has been charting single after single for the better part of a decade. Between Adam Levine’s unmistakable and endlessly charming vocals, the slinky guitar lines, and sultry grooves, this disc goes down easy without seeming too insubstantial. Production by the legendary Robert John “Mutt” Lange (most recently seen on Lada Gaga’s latest) undoubtedly plays a big part, stripping the band back after the slightly overdone It Won’t Be Soon Before Long (2007).
Like all good pop records, Hands All Over hits you with the singles. Opener and lead single “Misery” has dark undertones that belie its jangly, punchy instrumentation. Effortless harmonies and sultry guitars are a strangely apt match for the lovelorn lyrics: “I am in misery / There ain’t nobody who can comfort me / Why won’t you answer me? / The silence is slowly killing me.” It reminds me of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” in its combination of ominous sentiment and peppy backing, with Levine saying, “Girl, you really got me bad / I’m gonna get you back.” All in all, it’s songs like this that make me keep listening to pop music; with so many songs seeming interchangeable and bland, you can listen to a cut like this and know instantly that it’s Maroon 5.
The next single, “Give A Little More,” finds Levine aping Michael Jackson at places in his vocals, though it’s not too unnatural of a fit since Levine’s voice hits such a high range. This song is slick without being too plastic, and it’s a good listen. But it’s “Stutter” where the album hits its stride. The drums are powerful, backing Levine’s soulful croon. Lange’s production is everywhere, buffing the group to a shine; nothing seems out of place, and all the elements combine for pop greatness.
With Hands All Over, you get the sense that every song could be a single – it’s that sleekly put together. Plus, Levine’s voice and lyrics are oddly endearing, though they could do with more of the specificity found on Songs About Jane. But whether it’s on a ballad like “Never Gonna Leave This Bed,” which soars and swells like it’s made to soundtrack a romantic comedy, or the amped-up title track (which has a cool George Michael feel to it), this batch of songs is a fun, easy listen.
There’s not a ton of depth to Hands All Over, and it’s probably not going to provide any divine revelations. But this is the perfect thing when you want something endlessly listenable that doesn’t make you feel too empty for having listened to it on repeat for the whole afternoon (see my recent and strange obsession with Britney Spears singles). Maroon 5 is my go-to study music, but try it out on your next road trip or when you need a break from the tangles of indie.
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