For all the critical slings and arrows that get tossed their way, I’ve always thought Maroon 5 were pretty darn OK. Not the world’s best band (their Best New Artist Grammy win over Kanye still leaves me scratching my head), but consistently enjoyable if mainstream pop/rock was your thing. Their songs hit the sweet spot between funk and rock, making them sort of the 21st version of Hall & Oates…or Chromeo without the irony, if that’s more your bag. While their debut, “Songs About Jane”, hasn’t really held up over the years, if you removed just a few songs from their last studio effort, 2007’s “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long” (namely “Kiwi” and “Not Falling Apart”), the album would’ve been pretty damn close to excellent.
The Grammy-winning band’s third effort, “Hands All Over”, was preceded by the single “Misery”, which I initially strongly disliked. Why? Because it sounded like a lazy, badly Xeroxed copy of Maroon 5’s hit catalog. They took a little bit of “This Love”, added a little bit of “Makes Me Wonder”, and the end result was just so calculated and desperate, almost. I mean, it’s one thing for a band to stick to a familiar sound. Quite another for a band to completely rip themselves off. Despite my enjoyment of the band’s previous work, my expectations for “Hands All Over” were relatively low. Despite my misgivings, I shelled out ten bucks for it anyway.
Thankfully, I don’t want my ten spot back. “Hands” is not as bad as the first single led me to believe. Yeah, it’s definitely derivative in spots. Adam Levine and the rest of the band are on autopilot for a good 25-30% of this album, particularly during some of the more uptempo material. The addition of the legendary Robert John “Mutt” Lange to the Maroon 5 production chair may not have been the wisest choice, either. I mean, Mutt’s legend is deserved, and he’s a good fit with the band’s sound, which definitely has an Eighties glow to it. No one would ever use the word “gritty” referring to a Maroon 5 record, but it seems like “Hands All Over” is polished to an almost impossible glow. As unabashed a fan of pop music as I am, you’d think that I’d never call the production on an album too shiny, right? Well-WRONG. Add in the fact that someone told Adam that it would be a good idea for him to use Auto Tune (however subtly) on several tracks, and I can’t help but be a little mad.
Despite all that, there’s more good than bad on “Hands All Over”. At 12 songs and a lightning-quick 40 minutes, even the shitty songs zip by, and truthfully, there’s not one outright awful song on the album. Highlights include the sassy title track (very reminiscent of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, another Lange production), the bouncy “Give a Little More” (a retread, but at least it’s a good retread), and…well, all of the ballads. The Lady Antebellum collabo “Out of Goodbyes” is a little antiseptic-sounding and perhaps the weakest of the bunch, but the soulful “Just a Feeling” and the anthemic “How” are the album’s two best tracks. Popdose guru Jeff Giles remarked that it’s the song on which Levine sounds the most human, and I have to agree. “Hands”‘ Achilles heel is that Levine (and the rest of the guys) sound machine-like on most of it, and the best music (even the best manufactured pop music) has a human element, a heart that resonates with the listener. Hopefully next album, Maroon 5 will resist the urge to spit-shine every note to an impossible gleam and leave a little bit of dirt in the grooves.