For better or for worse, whether or not you like them or hate them, you cannot lie about the success that Maroon 5 has had since their debut album Songs About Jane gave Adam Levine and 3 of the 5 other current members new life after a failed stint in the mid to late 90s as Kara's Flowers. The debut album put Maroon 5 as a boyish good look outfit with a propensity for Prince-like funk rock around that unabashed pop core. 1.22.03 Acoustic showed off a rare talent shown by many groups of their ilk, the ability to strip anything to its core and make it sound good. Their next two releases kept the funk going, but the group began to gravitate towards electro-pop. Recent album Overexposed may have been tongue in cheek, but it created a sort of identity crisis for the group, especially with Jesse Carmichael having sat out for that one.
So the question was, could Maroon 5 right the ship a little bit with Carmichael back at keyboards? Press releases this year bill newest album V as a journey through the essence of what makes the group tick from their Songs About Jane days to now, a sort of musical progression journey, aiming to unify the myriad of divisions in their fanbase. While this reviewer will not deny Maroon 5's ability to create hit after hit after hit and make it real good, one cannot help that the final product for the most part falls short of what was advertised in the first place.
Take a listen to Songs About Jane and even It Won't Be Soon Before Long. And then listen to V in its entirety. It gravitates more closer to hitting their latter two albums Hands All Over and the latter half of Overexposed.
That point gets driven home in
opening track and lead single "Maps." In fact "Maps" essentially sets the general tone for the rest of the album. It would not be such a bad thing if it didn't become somewhat monotonous halfway through the album. What do we get in "Maps"? A tailor made summer hit with Adam's soulful falsetto combined with a hell of a hook and some nifty guitar licks. "Animals" is the next single off the album and it gets even more formulaic with a pretty tired cliche about obsession (substitute with a reference to drug usage). In fact, it sort of sounds an awful lot like in setup like the opening track to Overexposed, "One More Night." Long time Maroon 5 fans may find that a bit disappointing in the generally recycled nature of "Animals." But for radio and its growing casual fanbase, it certainly can rule the airwaves and that division of the Maroon fanbase.
"It Was Always You"
could end up being THE groundbreaking track for the group in the last 6 years. Yes, it draws back on the greatest hits of the 90s and dials back the funk-rock sound, but there's a little hint of it and Adam's shiny and sharp vocals are encased in a somewhat dark and dirty electro-pop sound that reminds a little of Depeche Mode, one of their earlier influences. Next track "Unkiss Me" could easily be on some boyband's album and in this reviewer's opinion a waste of the group's collective talents, even Adam Levine's vocals. "Sugar" might even be worse off, even for the group's leanings lately; the track sounds like a bad Katy Perry cast-off, in fact, you could replace Adam's misplaced vocals for hers and it might sound better.
The last two albums produced at least one hit from the vein of stadium/arena pop and in V, that track belongs to "Leaving California."
Still very standard issue in every aspect, however unlike previous tries here, Adam's vocals shine in this piece. Next track "In Your Pocket" is back in "Animals" territory, meaning the listener gets another very tired cliche involving a girl's cell phone in her pocket. But its undeniable catchy beat and refrain will certainly give this song a long look at Top 40 radio once "Animals" has been thoroughly exhausted.
is only saved by Adam's falsetto delivery, which is certainly highlighted here. Otherwise, its annoying bass drum beat is jarring and just too much. There's an almost clunky-like feel in the execution here, a rare misstep for the normally now slick Maroon 5. "Coming Back For You" is in the same vein as "It Was Always You" being that it once again shows what they are capable of as a group. This one has a more of a Mister Mister meets Maroon 5 circa 2003 feel compared to the Prince-like feel in "It Was Always You."
"Feelings" is the group's (or maybe just Adam's) attempt at 90's style dance tracks. Leave that to guys like Justin Timberlake. That's all.
It's a good thing the album ends on a very strong note.
"My Heart Is Open" is yet another recently rare look into what happens when Maroon 5 strips everything down and clearly they know how to do it and execute with perfection. In this case, you only get Adam's underrated stripped vocals, a vocal from Gwen Stefani that many have never heard before. The stripped nature of the piece gives it a very understated, but powerful feeling, especially close to the end of the piece with the rising strings.
You look at the rating and wonder why it's so high considering most of this review has been about finding fault with Maroon 5's current and maddening turn in their music careers? Because three of out of twelve songs in the album are just that good, it carries the rest of the album. If they can just simply channel something out of those three, we could finally have the kind of truly groundbreaking (at least for them) effort we thought they were/are capable of as early as 10 years ago. Their first two albums proved you didn't need big name pop producers and slick production to get your songs on radio and it's maybe time for them to get back there, especially if they want another album to be a perspective journey on everything they've done thus far because in this album, they generally have forgotten the first half of their careers. And what a shame, the first half of their careers provided so many hits and so much promise and one can hope they can reach back for that somehow. This album, definitely isn't it and what makes V so frustrating at the end is that there are three moments in this album that truly shine and showcase them for what they truly are and can be.