From the moment a little known power-pop/rock quartet named Kara's Flowers turned into high octane quintet Maroon 5, Adam Levine and Co. have crafted catchy pop/rock tunes with a huge helping of Stevie Wonder-style funk, Prince-style guitar hooks and the slight unpredictability of The Police. And why not, these aformentioned trio of musical inspirations and antecedents form the basis of what Maroon 5 is all about. Maroon 5's debut "Songs About Jane" was a wonderful introduction into the kind of sound Levine and hs guys were going for. Then came the funkified and fun "It Won't Be Soon Before Long" which cemented the sound and approach for the guys. So what is "Hands All Over" like then?
The third album from Maroon 5 is a further progression of the group's musical inspirations and sensibilities, combining the funkified, guitar-driven pop/rock sound and charge it with a little Southern-fried disco and funk and introduces an R&B element that has never been evident in their last two offerings. Combine it with what appears to be one big love story from beginning to rather bitter end, throw in a wrench by going country with an oddly working duet with Lady Antebellum and the fact that love him or hate him, Adam Levine is one hell of a songwriter with plenty to write about and give. For a band that is often derided as stale and boring, "Hands All Over" should silence some of their detractors although a few tracks might give these detractors further ammo to make that point.
Case in point is the first track, "Misery". The song is vintage Maroon 5, a radio-friendly track that doesn't offer the kind of fire that the later parts of this album gives out in full force
to the listener. The track could have used an instrument-fueled only part, but it is all Adam Levine from start to finish and there is only so much Levine's falsetto tenor vocal delivery can do. This is a track that could have been so much more but falls somewhat short of its musical goal.
The next track "Give It a Little More" is where Maroon 5 shows its newfound musical versatility. It is a fun and funkified disco-flavored track that will get your feet moving; a perfect track to get your body moving on the dance floor. This song would not have been out of place at the height of the disco movement in the mid to late 70s at all.
Good old fashioned power-pop is the name of the game for the next track, "Stutter". While the track doesn't offer much, their fans will definitely enjoy this healthy dose of fun power pop that easily could have been on either of their previous two efforts.
"I Can't Lie" is one of the strongest songs on "Hands All Over" and is one of the favorites on this effort. The soulful funkified track kicks out the signature fiery sound Maroon 5 has become pretty known for and shows that Adam Levine and Co. are still capable of executing an easygoing, laidback love ballad, much like "Sunday Morning" and "Secret" from "Songs About Jane". "Hands All Over" is an oddly well done mashup of sound, with the electronica sound fused with an angry hard rock guitar riff and execution and finished off with n arena rock sensibility with the arena rock chorus in the background. Such mash-up of sound would fail with many acts, but with Maroon 5, the title track works very well due to the work of album producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, whose claim to fame was the man behind AC/DC's "Back in Black".
The track people might talk about is the strongest track on the album, "How". The song is a complete departure from Maroon 5's base sounds, ditching their entire sound for a classic pop/rock song with strong vocals, a lush deep sound you'd hear with bands like Daughtry and Lifehouse and very deep lyrics that touch the heart and soul. "Just A Feeling" could make an argument also for strongest track on the effort, a perfect modern R&B ballad that would make the Backstreet Boys proud. On top of that, they put a little twist to that by sprinkling a bit of the Maroon 5 sound experience. This might also be the most real song to date and as close as Maroon 5's fans might get close to the guys' previous life as Kara's Flowers when lyrics like that were a staple in the late 90s for them.
The last track (if you do not get the deluxe edition, which is HIGHLY recommended), "Out of Goodbyes" is perhaps the most ambitious track Maroon 5 has ever done to date. Not only does the group completely ditch the whole pop/rock sound for the country sound, they elicit the help of hot country trio Lady Antebellum. And if you are familiar with the deep honey vocals of Hillary Scott, you might think her vocals don't mix with Adam's falsetto tenor delivery. But one needs to listen to the track to know why it oddly works and it works because Levine tones down the falsetto and comes down to Hillary and Charles' vocal level and Adam comes off quite nice in a lower delivery.
If you happen to get the deluxe edition, there are two bonus tracks, "Last Chance" and "No Curtain Call". But the best parts of the deluxe edition are wonderful acoustic renditions of "Never Gonna Leave This Bed" and "Misery". Both of these tracks in its original form are probably the weakest sounding of the entire effort but like they have proven in the past on "1.22.03 Acoustic", they prove their greatness by stripping down songs in their repetoire and get raw and real with it. And the acoustic versions of "Never Gonna Leave This Bed" and "Misery" sound a million times better than the originals. The deluxe edition ends with a faithful but soulful cover of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You". Get the deluxe edition if you have a choice in buying when going online or in the stores...you will not regret spending a little extra for it at all.
In the end, it is not a new sound Maroon 5 brings forward to the table on "Hands All Over" but they introduce enough of new elements not used previously to bring some of their detractors to rest. In a way "Hands All Over" is a lot like "Songs About Jane", a getting your feet wet process is in line on this effort to see how fans, critics would react and if they get new fans in the process. There are a few forgettable songs on the album but overall this is a very strong effort though. And again, get the deluxe edition. The acoustic versions of "Misery" and "Never Gonna Leave This Bed" prove the mastery of Maroon 5 when they go acoustic.