Maroon 5 - Overexposed (2012)

Maroon 5
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In what seemed like an overnight miracle, Maroon 5 found a clever, ingenious way to reinvent themselves after suffering from poor record sales embarrassment after the Robert "Mutt" Lange-produced Hands All Over failed to repeat the job performance of It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. Hands All Over was a pretty damn good record, despite what some other critics claimed. It stood out as a band record allowing the guys to thrust their enamored passion for Stevie Wonder grooves into guitar-drenched rock and sweet pop sensibilities. “Misery” and “Give a Little More” were decent radio workouts, but apparently Maroon 5 hadn’t planned for the apocalypse of synth-driven electrohouse and Eurodisco to take over the Top 40 dial. This only forced them deeper into the pit of adult contemporary or AAA, to the same crowd for which John Mayer and Train play.

In what seemed like an overnight miracle, Maroon 5 found a clever, ingenious way to reinvent themselves after suffering from poor record sales embarrassment after the Robert "Mutt" Lange-produced Hands All Over failed to repeat the job performance of It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. Hands All Over was a pretty damn good record, despite what some other critics claimed. It stood out as a band record allowing the guys to thrust their enamored passion for Stevie Wonder grooves into guitar-drenched rock and sweet pop sensibilities. “Misery” and “Give a Little More” were decent radio workouts, but apparently Maroon 5 hadn’t planned for the apocalypse of synth-driven electrohouse and Eurodisco to take over the Top 40 dial. This only forced them deeper into the pit of adult contemporary or AAA, to the same crowd for which John Mayer and Train play. Despite the songs’ funky bottom and classic disco flirts, urban radio programmers – as always – failed to even give them a look. But, “Moves Like Jagger,” the strobelight jam that used as a marketable addendum to the Hands All Over playlist, zoomed Maroon 5 (and guest Christina Aguilera) back on top.

Experimenting with Britney Spears dancercises isn’t entirely new territory for the five-piece band (see Call and Response: The Remix Album), but it still isn’t exactly what early Maroon 5 fans expected. Those who fell in love with the Backstreet Boys-meets-‘80's rock ballad “She Will Be Loved,” the contagious up-tempo “This Love” and the dreamy “Sunday Morning” were not expecting to find Levine and the boys jumping into the candy lanes of Katy Perry or the robotic trances of Robyn. But, that’s exactly what happened with “Moves Like Jagger.” Still, the middle-finger decision to shift musical patterns proved to be the band’s perfect re-introduction to the masses.

A lot has happened since “Jagger” broke out: talented keyboardist James Carmichael decided to take a temporary siesta from the band; preacher kid and talented neo-soul singer PJ Morton entered into the fold; Levine – riding high on his overblown celebrity, thanks to his stint on NBC’s The Voice – is now standing on the cusp of being crowned the New King of Pop (oh, pick up a copy of June 2012's issue of Details for more “details”). With all of these new and baffling transitions, Maroon 5 chooses the appropriate album title to describe the band’s status in 2012.

For Overexposed, their fourth studio album, Maroon 5 goes deeper into the dance-pop universe and even calls on some heavy-hitters like Ryan Tedder, Max Martin and Benny Blanco to make the trip into space worth their while. The bulk of the songs do everything they can to please dance afficionados, including the Devo disco of “Lucky Strike,” the Donna Summer-sounding “Doin’ Dirt” and the Gaga-ish “Tickets.” But even in the land of electro, they still have a fervent grasp on crafting melodies and ambient lyrical structures that stick, evidenced best on the feel-good chorus of “Love Somebody.” Levine, in his near-crying falsetto sings in fine and familiar voice: “I know we’re only half way there/But you take me all the way.”

Where the band illuminates the brightest is when they do try to play like a band, rather than the studio experiment they are propped up to be. “Daylight” merges Levine’s high notes with a sweeping string and synth arrangement that stands out as one of the album’s better moments. “Beautiful Goodbye” returns the band to Songs About Jane concepts by mixing breezy reggae into a Michael Jackson-ish midtempo ballad. The Bruno Mars-y “Payphone” toys with the band’s excessive need to play with bad-ass lyrics loaded with the usual four-letter bombs, while soliciting emcee Wiz Khalifa for that extra layer of zing (good news: there’s an edited version out there). And, the album opener, “One More Night,” presents a rocking reggae bedrock possessing a thick urban thump that feels 65 percent natural.

What hurts Overexposed is quite obvious: This feels more like an Adam Levine record than it does a Maroon 5 band record. Carmichael’s piano chords are totally absent. And the notorious graffiti of the album art is enough to rival the artistic spookiness of Funkadelic album covers. For the last gripe, the old saying should be stamped on its front cover: Never judge a book by its cover. Things aren’t as messy on the inside of Overexposed as it appears on the outside. Recommended.

By J. Matthew Cobb

 
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