Sunday, July 22, 2012

Taking it all off for Overexposed....

Maroon 5's 4th "Overexposed" rolled out in June.  Having seen them live when they were touring Songs About Jane and having seen they do have performing chops, this album shocked me to read about.  They felt that "Hands All Over" was a disappointment, so they enlisted none other than 1999-era boyband explosion producer Max Martin to executive produce.  What would a band who can actually play their instruments need with someone like that, I asked?  The runaway success of re-issue single from album #3 "Moves Like Jagger" seems to have gone to their heads - sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.

"One More Night" opens the disc with a lite-reggae-pop cadence, and knowing the producer working the boards, it sounds surprisingly spare - the beat is a bit robotic, but the guitars and synths don't drown Levine's voice out entirely - and aside from some double tracking, it is mostly free of vocal-ruining effects and processing.  The heavier pop influence can be heard, but it still sounds like a Maroon 5 track.  The following, lead single "Payphone" is fine enough, but ruined by an excruciatingly pointless verse by Wiz Khalifa that feels shoe-horned in and terribly out of place.  On "Daylight" they recover nicely enough, yet it sounds like they picked up too many tricks from their tourmates - they toured with Train recently, who has songs that often sound too processed and manicured - and pleasant though it is, Daylight suffers from this.  "Lucky Strike" is as close as they get to past triumphs of thumping energy and power from albums long gone by.  It's heavy on the synths (again, a mark of the producers at the boards) but it is unmistakably "them" even so.  And yet as close as it gets to matching the sparked-up energies of albums past, it's no "Give A Little More".

In other places they borrow a vibe but manage not to sound like a complete rip.  "Ladykiller" has a backbeat that evokes The Police "Every Breath You Take" but doesn't sound like a carbon copy, and manages to keep enough new going on to keep the listener interested.  Here again the producer behind the boards is obvious - Max Martin and the like often construct melodies that have traces of past pop hits buried in the fabric, so this kind of sly nod to a long-ago hit is certainly not surprising.

The pop glitter coating this album can get in the way, but it occasionally yields a fun 80's-meets-disco-meets-current-day dance ballad (see "Love Somebody" for this odd hat trick).  The band is in desperate need of some new subject matter, but even considering that, they know how to write a catchy inaccessible-woman jam in the form of "Tickets".  "Beautiful Goodbye" is a bit mechanical, but it forms a classic slow-thumping ballad in the style Maroon 5 is known for to close the album.  The deluxe edition throws on a cover of Prince "Kiss" and a few more tracks that keep up the aesthetic, but don't rise very far above or sink far below the rest of the album.  As an album this is ok, and it's pleasant enough - but knowing the band itself is capable of so much more - and that they can do it without the hand of sugar-pop svengalis to massage the tracks - knowing that, it comes off as a bit of a disappointment.

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