Maroon 5

A&M/Octone, 2012


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


First things first: auto-tune should be effing illegal. If I want to listen to someone singing like a freaking robot, I’ll put on an old Kraftwerk album.

If only that were the extent of the problems with Overexposed, the fourth studio album—well, kinda sorta, you’ll see—from once-upon-a-time neo-soul prodigies Maroon 5. Back in 2002, this quintet came along with a fresh sound—poppy to be sure, but full of the groove and genuine emotion evidenced on early hits like “Harder To Breathe” and “She Will Be Loved.” Frontman Adam Levine in particular had an outstanding voice capable of swerving effortlessly between a pleasant tenor and a soaring falsetto.

As the years have worn on, though, the band has begun to founder. First founding drummer Ryan Dusick left, then Levine distanced himself from the group a bit by joining the panel of American Idol knockoff The Voice. Most recently founding keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, co-composer with Levine of the bulk of the group’s songbook up until now, took a leave of absence for this album.

This album which, in the final analysis, isn’t really a Maroon 5 album at all, but rather an Adam Levine solo disc. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion after listening to a series of tracks where everyone in the group other than Levine is barely present. “One More Night” and “Payphone” might feature solid beats and a certain shiny appeal—marred in the latter case by a head-shaking amount of entirely gratuitous profanity—but these songs have virtually nothing to do with Maroon 5. They’re densely produced synth-pop numbers populated with drum machines and programming, devoid of any of the sharp ensemble playing the group manifested on earlier albums, and in fact bereft of the very things that made Maroon 5 appealing in the first place: soul, emotion, sincerity.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

His voice auto-tuned just shy of Alvin the Chipmunk territory, Levine for much of this album literally sounds like he’s singing through a circuit board. On most of these tracks it’s impossible to even detect an organic instrument or voice; it’s heavily processed electronic drums plus densely layered synthesizers plus heavily processed vocals equals 100 percent sheen.

Even when you can detect (barely) actual non-synthesized instruments, as on the driving “Lucky Strike,” there isn’t a single note that hasn’t been tweaked to death by a computer. “The Man Who Never Lied” is worse yet, a paint-by-numbers songwriting crapfest with less originality than your average used car commercial. (By this point I was taking careful notes on the thundering herds of co-writers and producers deployed on these tracks to make sure I never purchase another album on which they are featured.)

When M5 finally do step off the dance floor and away from the auto-tune, it’s for a limp, forgettable piano ballad aptly named “Sad.” Even that awkward respite is a brief one, though; the next two tracks are pure formula songwriting, piling the “enough of dancing in this club, let’s go home and get busy” clichés to the ceiling. At least closer “Beautiful Goodbye” isn’t another formulaic dance tune; it’s simply an innocuous, lightweight pop ballad with all the substance of a snowflake.

Overexposed is the first album on which Maroon 5 sounds more like a brand than a band—just another faceless, homogenized, computerized, plasticized pop machine. Ten years ago, Adam Levine was a terrific white-soul singer with a hot band and a promising debut album under his belt. Ten years from now, he'll be that cheesy "Moves Like Jagger" guy who used to be on The Voice. Apparently he thinks that's trading up. “Sad,” indeed.

Rating: D-

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© 2012 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A&M/Octone, and is used for informational purposes only.