Considering that Maroon 5 have their very own category on this site, it’s safe to say that I’m a big fan. I’ve been following them since the end of 2003, and in that time I have listened to their music obsessively, bought so much of their merchandise, seen them in concert three times – two of which I traveled out of state for – watched the DVDs, displayed posters in my office…you get the idea. Today marks the release date of their 4th album, Overexposed, so suffice to say I’ve been eagerly anticipating this for a long time. Maroon 5 release day is a big deal to me – I received a complimentary advance copy of this album yesterday (I love my job!), and I immediately took a break so I could sit down and listen to it. I literally can’t remember the last time I took a day off, so for a workaholic like me to drop everything on a busy Monday, it has to be a pretty big deal!
The last year has been one of big, exciting changes for Maroon 5. With the success of The Voice and “Moves Like Jagger”, Maroon 5 have had a second coming of sorts, gaining even larger popularity than they had before. This seems to have a mixed reaction in the fan community, but I love it. Anything that can put Maroon 5 on my TV more often is always a good thing! Their new album’s title is meant to be a joke about this newfound uber-fame. When they announced the title and the fact that it was going to be their most pop album to date, produced by the legendary Max Martin, I was extremely excited. Max Martin has long been a favorite of mine for his work with Britney Spears, Ace of Base, *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and too many others to list. He’s responsible for “…Baby One More Time” and pretty much all the other teen mega-pop hits from the late ’90s. I couldn’t wait to hear what his work with Maroon 5 was going to sound like!
I knew this was going to be a different album than we’ve heard previously from the band, for several reasons. For starters, with the huge success of The Voice and the desire to continue captivating that larger audience, I knew it was likely they’d take a direction that would play off their success with “Jagger”. Second of all, their third album Hands All Over just came out in 2010, and between extensive touring and promotion for that mixed with the intense filming schedule for The Voice, this leaves very little time to record. Third, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael is currently taking a break from the band and was not involved with the making of Overexposed. Carmichael is one of the major contributing songwriters in the band alongside Adam Levine, so I knew that his absence would change the dynamic and sound of the band. However, I was not trepidacious but rather looking forward to hearing what it would sound like. I love this talented band so much that I have faith in their ability to make music that is compelling to me no matter what direction they take. Maroon 5 could make white noise and it would be the best white noise you’ve ever heard, because they’re just that good.
“Moves Like Jagger” was a departure for the band in that they collaborated with other many songwriters to create it. Maroon 5 have always primarily written all of their own material, with everything on the first two albums being written exclusively by them and some cuts on Hands All Over bearing contributions from what they call their “Inner circle”. So “Jagger” was a first for them in many ways. They decided to continue this by bringing in co-writers for most of the material on Overexposed, which is such a massive change for Maroon 5 that I don’t think I can emphasize it enough. All of these factors combine to create a very new sound for the band on this album, which is a slick, hyper-polished record with a very up-to-the-minute sound that mirrors much of what you hear right now on the Top 40 charts.
On one hand, I love this, because I am such a huge fan of slick pop. The production values on this sounds at times reminiscent of recent albums like Britney’s Femme Fatale, a record which I adore, so it’s fun to hear that kind of big sound from Maroon 5. On the other hand, it’s a bit unexpected to hear a band comprised of extremely talented musicians hand over half the songwriting duties and trade guitar solos for a more digitized sound.
I wouldn’t say that I dislike the collaborations with other songwriters, but I find them to be unnecessary. A lot of people hate on Maroon 5, but I dare anyone who looks down on them to watch the band in concert. Even if you don’t care for the genre of music which they play, you have to admit that they are incredibly talented musicians, songwriters, and performers. The entire band can do an amazing performance live on the spot – so why cover up all the instruments in these songs? Levine is an amazing vocalist – why would you autotune his voice? In a recent piece in the LA Times, the band discussed the new direction the band has taken and made no bones about the fact that they wanted to do something commercially successful, which was the driving force behind all of these decisions. I have no problem with their desire to be successful – I don’t blame them at all, and I want them to be mega-successful as well! But it’s just a bit sad to me that the mainstream music industry is at a point now where the only way to get a smash hit is to run everything through the exact same kind of filter. To me, the collaborations with songwriters like Martin and Shellback feel sort of like they were checking off boxes: We need a guest rapper, distorted vocals, samples. I absolutely love the work which Martin and other contributors such as Ryan Tedder do, but I feel like the main focus was poured into making a couple of smash singles and then sliding by with a little more filler on the other songs. And again, the timeframe on this was pretty rushed so I am not at all surprised by that happening, if only by necessity.
In that same LA Times article, the band is a bit disparaging of their last album because it wasn’t as successful as their previous two. It makes me sad to hear them talk about their prior work as if it was badly written just because it didn’t bring in as many sales, because we all know that something selling well doesn’t make it good. Hands All Over is an AMAZING album that they should be extremely proud of, whether it sold 1 copy or 1 million. The pressure to succeed is intense under that kind of microscope, but I hope they’ll be able to look back and remember that dollars made is not what determines the quality of work.
With that said, here’s a track-by-track look at Overexposed:
1. One More Night: This song is so incredibly catchy that most of the people I’ve played it for were instantly hooked and ended up putting it on replay themselves. I love, love, love, this song so much. Levine said on an MTV appearance that this song was mostly formed when he first heard it, so Max Martin works his magic once again (Well, along with Levine and 2 other writers!).
2. Payphone: The lead single off Overexposed and our first preview of their 2012 sound. I do really like this song a lot but it didn’t quite grab me the way their lead singles always do; having the rap in the middle felt a little out of place. And I have no problem with rap – Levine has done some awesome solo collaborations with rappers that I love, but this one just felt a little like rap for the sake of having marketable rap.
3. Daylight: This is a soaring pop piece that I suspect may be released as their 3rd single, simply because of the timeliness and how it fits into what it currently popular.
4. Lucky Strike: Really upbeat and fun with a nice guitar lead and the kind of chorus that makes you immediately want to dance in your chair!
5. The Man Who Never Lied: The album takes it down a notch with this somewhat more introspective cut that hooks you with its melody right away.
6. Love Somebody: This track has all the hallmarks of a modern pop song, from its beat to the airy chorus.
7. Lady Killer: This number has some ’70s funk influences with fantastic guitar work that is instantly infectious. Interestingly enough, I recognize the guitar solo in the middle of the song – many years back, there was a never-released demo that somehow found its way on to the web called “Pleasure @!#%$” – well, that’s not the actual title, but I can’t print it! – and the solo used in “Ladykiller” is a reworked version of what appeared in that old demo. In a way, it’s too bad that they never released the original song as I really liked it, but I adore this one too and I’m glad they could at least put that riff to use, because it’s a good one.
8. Fortune Teller: A very beat-driven, contemporary number.
9. Sad: This is a stripped-down piano ballad that stands in contrast to the rest of the album’s material. It’s beautifully depressing – I actually find myself skipping this one just because it bums me out, so it packs an emotional punch.
10. Tickets: Luckily, we have something upbeat to cheer me up after feeling so “Sad”! This is one of those standout tracks that you love the instant you hear it because it’s so incredibly catchy. The song has ironically shallow lyrics about a shallow girl, which stands in contrast to the vulnerability of “Sad” with its tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. You know the next time I see them live, I’ll totally be singing She’s got tickets to her own show as I stand in line.
11. Doin’ Dirt: This has a modern disco vibe, which I dig more and more every time I listen to it.
12. Beautiful Goodbye: This is a love ballad that is punctuated with a very current-sounding drum beat.
13. Wipe Your Eyes (Deluxe Edition): The demo for this has been circulating for several months, and I’ve liked it ever since I heard it the first time. The final version is a bit different than what I thought, as the initial sample they used has been replaced. I can’t say I’m sorry that the chipmunk “Oh-na-na” sample got axed, but the one it was replaced by is almost more intrusive to me because I feel like it gets in the way of the awesome melody at times.
14. Wasted Years (Deluxe Edition): I have seriously been waiting for this song for at least 7 years. This one was written post-Songs About Jane and was originally thought to be a song that would appear on their second album. They used to play this in concert quite a lot – I knew all the words and sang along when I saw them in Portland in 2005 – and it also appears on their Friday The 13th DVD. It’s a fantastic song so I was really excited that we’d be able to hear the finished version at long last. This recording of “Wasted Years” is very, very different – in fact, it’s been almost completely re-worked. Originally, it was a very guitar-driven song; but in this version, guitar solos have been replaced with a big band sample and a reggae beat. You can listen to the original on YouTube if you want to compare, if you don’t have the DVD at hand – which you should, the DVD is AWESOME – and you’ll see what a difference it is. I like it as a standalone song, but it’s hard to wrap my head around it being so different since I’ve been humming the old version of “Wasted Years” for so long. And by the way, that clip of them playing the old version live is a great example of how this band doesn’t need any effects or filters – the live version is just incredible.
I did note that the writing credits on this version was attributed to Levine and an outside songwriter, which is new, because originally this song was written by the entire band, including former drummer Ryan Dusick. It is entirely possible that they had to update portions of the song due to Dusick no longer being with the band, as I know contractual obligations and the like can be complex.
15. Kiss (Deluxe Edition): Finally, M5 close out the deluxe edition of Overexposed with a 7-minute, old-school rock interpretation of a Prince song. In some ways, it feels like they didn’t have a lot of chances to really jam out on this album, so they took this opportunity for all it was worth! Of course, there is great guitar playing and riffs on Overexposed, but they feel so much more toned down and filtered into the background on this album with all the slick production values.
My top three favorite tracks off this album are “One More Night”, “Ladykiller”, and “Tickets”. It’s no surprise to me that 2 out of those three were written solely by Maroon 5 with no external songwriters. It’s not that the songs they’ve collaborated on are bad; it’s simply that they don’t need it and are at their best when free to pursue their own ideas. I love bubblegum, auto-tuned, slick pop more than anyone else I know, so it’s certainly not me turning my nose up at the genre. I mean, I have music from Big Time Rush on my Spotify playlists – carefree and lightweight pop makes me extremely happy. But this is an instance where I feel like it was an unneeded addition. Britney Spears doesn’t play an instrument, so making fun electro-pop makes total sense for someone like her. But why take a band that writes and plays great pop-rock songs and give it such a highly-autotuned treatment? Have we really gotten to the point where the music industry thinks we can’t handle music that isn’t all presented the exact same way, so you’re forced to go this route to have a hit?
And please don’t get me wrong – I still love the album, it makes me very happy, and I’ll be playing it non-stop as I do with all of their CDs. I only dissect it to such a degree because their music is so compelling and interesting to me, so I always have a myriad of thoughts and feelings when they have a new release out. My background lends to an inherent fascination with the recording process of my very favorite musicians and I find it interesting to see what the bands I like choose to do and how they do it. I personally think it’s quite a unique time in Maroon 5′s career and it’s fun to watch and see where it will go from here. I’m looking forward to seeing the band in concert again so that I can hear these songs live, because I think the material will sound fantastic on tour. I personally think it’s a bit of a waste to have great guitarists and drummers glossed over, but if M5 decide to continue with a dance approach I will fully support them and jam out to every CD they make just as I have for the last 9+ years!
You can snag your copy of the new album on Amazon or in stores now, so hurry up and get a copy and make sure you get the deluxe edition so you’ll have all the songs! And PS, you can also enter to win our Overexposed CD giveaway through July 12th!