The year 2012 marks the ten-year anniversary of Maroon 5’s debut album, the smash hit Songs About Jane. A decade later, they’re still at it, churning out some of the most reliable pop in the industry. Between Adam Levine’s distinctive vocals (not to mention his star turn on “The Voice”) and the band’s knack for crafting artful pop-rock that still sounds fresh after the umpteenth radio rotation, Maroon 5 remains strangely likeable despite not having exhibited too much artistic growth over their career.
On this disc, their fourth and the follow-up to 2010’s underselling Hands All Over, the group has pulled out all the stops to reclaim their top spot on the Billboard charts. They’ve recruited top songwriters and producers in Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, and Benny Blanco, among others, while the disc’s first singles feature collaborations with Christina Aguilera (the ubiquitous “Moves Like Jagger”) and rapper Wiz Khalifa (“Payphone”). According to the band, Overexposed is their most “pop” record to date, shrugging off some of their rock flavor in favor of more immediate accessibility. And you can absolutely see this as the album unfolds: opener “One More Night” – set to be the second single – is so slick that you can start singing to it before it’s even halfway over. The lyrics, telling the tale of a toxic relationship, are minimal: “So I cross my heart and hope to die / That I’ll only stay with you one more night,” but with the song’s reggae tinge and the energetic groove provided by Micky Madden’s bass and James Valentine’s vibrant guitar, it’s impossible that this won’t become a huge summer hit.
Meanwhile, lead single “Payphone” is still ineffable even if you’ve heard it a thousand times (which is absolutely possible, considering how constantly this is played on Top 40 stations). It’s perfectly melodic, mid-tempo pop, Levine’s signature falsetto soaring on the chorus and an excellent intersection of plinking piano and heavy drums. Like much of Overexposed, “Payphone” doesn’t tread any new waters, but it manages to re-outfit what the band does so well.
And yet, having just seen Maroon 5 live in Baltimore last month, I feel like it’s such a shame that so little of the blistering, heavy guitar tone that was such a feature of their live set actually made it to the album. Tracks like “Daylight” and “Love Somebody” are likable enough, all rafter-reaching choruses and syncopated beats, but both sound like they were yanked off a OneRepublic album (probably owing to Ryan Tedder’s production). Thankfully, Levine boasts one of the most unique voices in pop, and so, for beater or worse, Overexposed is absolutely Maroon 5.
When they do take risks, it’s fairly hit or miss. “Lucky Strike,” which comes early in the album when the hits are still aplenty, has a remarkably cool energy to it and a fast-paced beat that won’t be ignored. It’s absolutely material for the third single. But then there are songs like “Sad” or “Tickets” that never quite hit home. “Sad” is one of the few pure piano ballads that the band has released, and it’s not really one of their stronger suits. Levine’s crystal-pure vocals are wasted on a chorus that simply consists of “I’m so sad.” And “Tickets” takes all the sass of Songs About Jane and drives it into the ground with this weird, techno-inspired cut.I was just a casual fan of Maroon 5 when I saw them live, but the sheer energy of their set as they churned out hit after hit, commanding the entire stadium to join in for a half hour rendition of “She Will Be Loved,” made me go back and begin to appreciate just how seamless and charming most of their releases have been. Overexposed is kind of a mixed bag; I’d love to see more of what I know the band can do, but having this batch of summer-ready pop hits will tide me over until them.
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