Sunday, August 12, 2012

Embracing glossy pop

album review

Maroon 5's Overexposed, a twelve song set crafted for the mainstream audience, is less blue-eyed soul and more electro pop

Artist: Maroon 5
Album: Overexposed

They started out as Kara's Flowers nearly two decades ago, then eventually gained recognition as Maroon 5 when their 2002 debut album, Songs About Jane, became a global success on the back of hits like 'Harder to Breathe' and 'This Love'. Two more records - It Won't Be Soon Before Long and Hands All Over - subsequently followed, but just when they were in danger of falling off the radar after the lacklustre sales of the latter, lady luck decided to smile on them. Along came the American version of The Voice, turning Adam Levine into a celebrity in his own right, and then the surprise success of last year's 'Moves like Jagger', featuring fellow Voice coach Christina Aguilera, gave the band the biggest hit of their career and brought them back to relevance.

Now, in a desperate bid to hold on to their new audience and capitalize on their newfound “overexposure”, Maroon 5 have veered off the funk tinged alternative rock path that initially brought them attention and distinguished them from their peers, and embraced the sucrose pop sound that gave them their most successful single.

With the assistance of pop industry heavyweights like Max Martin, Shellback, Benny Blanco, and Ryan Tedder, the band has constructed their fourth album, Overexposed, a twelve song set crafted for the mainstream audience. Musically, it's less blue-eyed soul and more electro pop; lyrically, it's standard and largely uninventive, offering yet more musings on relationship troubles. Lead single 'Payphone' is a catchy pop song that (almost unnecessarily) features guest rapper Wiz Khalifa and is tailored for chart success. The reggae tinged album opener 'One More Night' is vibrant, and the melodious 'The Man Who Never Lied' puts together some catchy elements to deliver an enjoyable track. 'Lucky Strike' is reminiscent of 'Moves like Jagger' (which is also included as a bonus track on some versions of Overexposed); in fact 'Moves like Jagger's' spectre lingers over much of the album, as many songs strive to replicate this monster hit's vibe. The most distinctive track on this mostly homogenous album is the stripped down piano ballad 'Sad' which displays Levine's vocals on a relatively effects-free canvas.

At no point on the record is there any doubt about the fact that Maroon 5 have embraced a gradual and calculated move towards a more pop oriented sound. This is glossy pop that is reliant on synthesizers, dance beats, and repetitive melodies. It's contemporary and slick, but there isn't much that sets it apart from other standard Top 40 fodder. Levine has chosen to work with an array of outside writers and producers; yet the melodies aren't as impressive as they should be, and the album's over-processed feel seems to have eroded the rest of the band's contributions.

Overexposed isn't a display of musical dexterity, but an album that wants to hold a wide-ranging appeal. The set doesn't so much cater to their long term followers, since it is not as funky or soulful as their previous work, although the tracks do have the tendency to get stuck in the listener's head. It is generic, over-produced, and largely influenced by the success of 'Jagger', and perhaps that's why there is something somewhat desperate about Overexposed; Maroon 5 seem to have given up craft for commercialism, and delivered an output that ranges from infectious to awkward, and sometimes even manages to be both at the same time. Fans of their earlier work might be disappointed by this change in direction, but those who like contemporary pop are likely to enjoy it.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 12th August, 2012

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