I’ve got a couple of beefs with Maroon 5. One is that lead singer Adam Levine appears to be an insufferable douche. This characteristic doesn’t really fool with my enjoyment of the band, however. After all, most musicians are pretty douchey. Levine wouldn’t bother me any more or less than, say, John Mayer but while Mayer seems to see himself as more of an artist (or at least as a songwriter more than he does a pop star) Levine leans more to the “I wanna be famous and I’ll do whatever it takes to do it” side of the equation. Case in point: the continuing adaptation of Maroon 5: from Beatles-esque rock to pop/rock with soul influences to uber-pop.
Their last album, 2010’s Hands All Over, was a disappointment. Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange’s arena-rock style has worked for everyone from Billy Ocean to Shania Twain, but somewhat surprisingly, it didn’t work for Maroon 5. Not only was Lange’s production style not a good fit, but the band seemed to be on Auto-Pilot, making Xeroxed copies of their previous hits. Only the funk groove “Give A Little More” and the album’s ballads (“How,” “Just A Feeling” and “Out Of Goodbyes”) resonated positively with me. Given the fact that I was a huge fan of their previous album, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, the amount of suckitude contained in Hands All Over stung.
Levine has obviously realized that the Lange teaming was at least a commercial mistake as well, because Maroon 5’s fourth album, Overexposed, is packed with pop music’s biggest producers. This album finds the band aiming for Top 40 radio more obviously than they have through their entire career. This is a good and a bad thing.
The production leans heavily on electronics, making me wonder exactly whether this is a Maroon 5 album or an Adam Levine solo effort with his Maroon 5 bandmates popping by intermittently. You’re definitely not hearing live drums or even guitars on every track. As one might expect from a band, the songs that have more of a live feel are better than the more computerized-sounding cuts, including the reggae-ish album closer “Beautiful Goodbye” and the anthemic “The Man Who Never Lied.” Interestingly, Levine’s voice sounds less Auto-tuned on this album than it did on the previous one. I’m totally okay with this, by the way.
You can’t always say that the first singles released from an album are the best songs (see: “Misery”) but “Payphone” has stood up to repeated listens and the second single “One More Night” is an unexpected surprise that should be the hit of the summer. They’re also two of the album’s best tracks. They’ve got a bit more personality to them than some of the rest of the album. My biggest problem with Overexposed is that some of the songs are so bland they are interchangeable. That’s a hallmark of every Maroon 5 album, not just this one. But combine anonymity with a musical style that I’m not the craziest about and the end result is that it’s easier for me to tune out of the songs on this album than I would to a song from one of the first two albums.
I definitely dug Maroon 5 more when they were doing the neo-Hall & Oates thing, merging funk with rock and dance music. Overexposed basically exposes (sorry, there’s no other way I could put that) the band as trend-followers. Jumping on the Top 40 bandwagon isn’t a bad move now-I’d say there are more good moments than bad moments on Overexposed. But I’m wondering how well that sets the guys up for a life-long career. Whereas five years ago I would’ve bought a Maroon 5 album without hearing a note, future albums (if Adam Levine doesn’t go solo) will certainly be auditioned before trying, just because I don’t know what I’m gonna get going forward.
Grade: B (leaning more towards B-)