Maroon 5

Interscope, 2014


REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


I’ve been listening to Maroon 5 for ten years now; Songs About Jane became a smash hit when I was fourteen years old, and they’ve been a consistent radio staple ever since. A lot has changed for me in those years, although I can’t say the same for Maroon 5’s sound. V, their fifth album, is a blend of upbeat, catchy pop and a few ballads thrown in for good measure – just like every other M5 release. And yet their ability to consistently churn out infectious songs that stick to the radio like glue isn’t really a surprise. Levine is a born frontman with a singular voice, and he’s backed by an equally strong crew (consisting of James Valentine on guitar, bassist Mickey Madden, drummer Matt Flynn, and Jesse Carmichael, who returned after sitting out 2012’s Overexposed. They’ve also got Max Martin, the Swedish songsmith behind some of pop’s greatest hits, at the helm on production here.

V launches out with “Maps,” which has been omnipresent on radio for the past summer and peaked at number six on the Billboard Top 10. It’s infectious pop as M5 does best, accented by Valentine’s trilling guitar and an all-out, drum-pounding chorus that soars to the rafters. Levine’s enveloping falsetto is gorgeous as always, tricked out with Ryan Tedder’s clean, crisp production. It moves seamlessly into “Animals,” the disc’s latest single. While the lyrics veer into silliness in Levine’s attempt to sound seductive, it still manages to hold up after the repeated listen it demands. Plus, lest I accuse the band of phoning it in just yet, Levine unleashes a positively epic howl near the end of the song that shows he’s still having fun with it all. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Next up is “It Was Always You,” which provides a nice tonal break after the one-two pop punch of the opener. It unfolds with a dreamy looseness, reminiscent of some of the material on 2010’s Hands All Over and Overexposed. The lyrics leave something to be desired, but the slow-rising staccato beats have a cool electronic flavor. Meanwhile, “Unkiss Me” is a swoony ballad, simple in sentiment and lovely in execution – it’s a nice reminder that Maroon 5 can craft a tender love song. There’s a sweet vulnerability to Levine’s voice as he croons, “Don’t act like I mean nothing / But if you’re gonna, well then you better / Unkiss me, untouch me.” Simple in sentiment, lovely in execution, it’s a nice reminder that Maroon 5 can craft a tender love song, even if it does veer close to boy-band territory at times. 

It’s around this album midpoint that things start to get a little dicey for the M5 sound. The R&B infused “Sugar” is a throwback to the band circa Songs About Jane, but the lyrics are as lightweight and saccharine as cotton candy, and even Levine’s omnipresent falsetto can’t pull this one into memorability.

It’s almost if they exhausted all their energy on the first half of the album and then phoned it in for the rest. It’s a hodgepodge of musical sins: “Leaving California” is pleasantly bland, “In Your Pocket” is nearly nonsensical, and Levine forgot to write a chorus on “Feelings” and just chose to repeat the title for awhile (though the production is a silky smooth, almost disco-y affair that makes this song catchily seductive in spite of itself). Meanwhile, “Coming Back For You” doesn’t go anywhere in particular; I would’ve rather seen it replaced by the lilting, strangely pretty cover of “Sex And Candy” that features on the deluxe edition.

Closer “My Heart Is Open” is ostensibly a vehicle to promote the upcoming Levine/Gwen Stefani collaboration on The Voice; nonetheless, it’s an enigmatic intersection between the dynamic pair. Backed by piano and swelling strings, Levine and Stefani’s voices are a natural match and they flow together well to bring the disc to its end. So while Maroon 5 remains listenable as always, their latest effort is lacking in parts. It’s something I’ll always bemoan because I feel like all the raw material is there for the band to really craft something memorable and interesting beyond their pop stunners. Seeing them live seared it into my brain that they could rock. It’s a shame that V doesn’t even make that attempt.

Rating: C+

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