Wednesday, September 3, 2014

V | Maroon 5


★★☆☆☆

For well over a decade, Maroon 5 has been systematically churning out Top 40 hits, from "This Love" to "Moves Like Jagger." Their newest cut, "Maps," has peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, and now the band has gone forward with the release of their fifth studio album, V

Between the release of their 2002 debut album Songs About Jane and Overexposed (their most recent album before V), Maroon 5 has seen a behind-the-scenes transition from a self-sufficient lyric and production machine to a entire factory of outside collaborators. Previous co-writers Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic), Benny Blanco, and Ammar Malik are prominent figures on this album as well, but they don't disturb the same pop-rock sound that Maroon 5 has been drawing out for the past few album cycles.

"Maps" was released for download and serviced to mainstream radio in June and has been met with unsurprisingly successful commercial performance. The song, just like Overexposed-era singles such as "Payphone" and "One More Night," still renders the band unrecognizable to longtime fans lingering from the early days. Instead, the producers of "Maps" have taken lead singer Adam Levine's constricted vocals and baked them into a radio-friendly pop song that is just bearable enough to hum along with when the song is on the radio, but not unique enough to encourage listeners to pinpoint the song on iTunes.

Teaming up with the infamous dancing hamsters, Maroon 5 also managed to nab a promotional slot with Kia for their newest model of their Soul EV wagon. Last year's Kia Soul campaign featuring Lady Gaga's "Applause" was almost everywhere, so as long as the company is still using the same wide-focus marketing strategy, Maroon 5 should be benefiting from this year's commercial reincarnation as well. The song used in the commercial, "Animals," runs off of a similar surefire power-pop formula as "Maps," but utilizes a darker bass line and suggestive lyrics: "Baby I'm preying on you tonight / Hunt you down eat you alive / Just like animals."

In general, this album pushes Levine into a large group of distinctive influences, but each track is glossed over with a general pop-rock sound for consistency. Lyrically, "It Was Always You" is a dedication to a seemingly perfect girl, but musically sounds like a toned-down, twenty-first century revamp of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger." The Ammo and Cirkut-produced "Sugar" pushes Levine into a hybrid of Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" and "Birthday," the accusatory "In Your Pocket" sounds like an up-tempo Florence + The Machine track with a synth line, and even "Maps" nods back to the recent works of OneRepublic.

"Leaving Califonia" is perhaps the closest we get to "old school" Maroon 5 here, but even on this guitar-led track we get noticeably altered vocals and some moments of heavy production. On the contrary, the band goes into some sort of teen boy band trance on tracks like "Unkiss Me" and "New Love." "Unkiss Me" in particular sounds like a dated late-90s ballad from *NSYNC, exchanging Justin Timberlake's voice with Adam Levine's.

Like in the aforementioned "It Was Always You," 1980s pop-rock influences run through "Coming Back For You" and "Feelings." In the former track, Levine promises to bring a relationship back to life regardless of the lengths he must go to do so ("I know there are millions of miles in between our hearts / But I will come running for you I don't care how far"), while in the latter, Adam utilizes a whiny falsetto to sing "I got these feelings for you / And I can't help myself no more / Can't fight these feelings for you / No I can't help myself no more."

The only vocal collaboration on the album is on its closing track: a ballad titled "My Heart is Open," recorded with Gwen Stefani. I know that a collaboration opportunity with Gwen Stefani being used on a piano-driven ballad simply seems like a wasted opportunity for another "Moves Like Jagger"-sized hit with added spunk, but this track is actually a touching finale to V. The track was co-written by Sia Furler and Rodney Jerkins (Yes, I was sold at "Sia," too), and Levine and Stefani's voices make for a smooth combination; those layered vocals are enough to make even the most emotionless listener swoon under their influence.

Overall, V is another record that holds true to the new standard for Maroon 5. In terms of sound, their identity still isn't unique; the album is based on a disposable mix of pop and rock and a slew of contemporary influences. Much like the band's singles, which tend to be initially popular before being abandoned and infrequently rotated at a mix station, the album is completely forgettable after each listen (minus a few songs). A common idiom says that the third time's the charm, but perhaps they forgot to add that the fifth time's just stale.

V is available now in both standard and deluxe formats under Interscope Records and 222 Records.

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