It is hard to believe Maroon 5 has been on the scene for 10 years. It almost feels like yesterday that "Harder to Breathe" stormed it's way to the top of the charts...regardless, Maroon 5 built its reputation for combining pop/rock with a healthy helping of alternative, funk and later on disco and R&B. Their last album, Hands All Over bridged that perfect combination of everything that made Maroon 5...well, Maroon 5. So what could Adam Levine and Co. provide on the ironically titled "Overexposed?"
Overexposed as a title likely shows how aware the band is in terms of their detractors with music critics and Adam Levine's turn on The Voice. But the music in Overexposed signals a stark change, even for them. They have for the most part ditched their funky-take on pop/rock with R&B and disco overtones and fully embraced their pop side while also incorporating the electronic element that has flooded the pop radio landscape the last 2 years. The only thing that hasn't changed for Maroon 5 however is their song material---they still discuss love and heartache with a few entendres here and there to keep things fresh. Beyond that, Overexposed seems to have more missteps than moments.
Tracks like "Lucky Strike," "Fortune Teller" and the lyrical and sonic mess that is "Tickets" shows clear proof that Adam Levine and Co. didn't just fall flat, but may be even took a step or two back. "Tickets," especially is perhaps the most pandering track the group may have ever conceived. It feels desperate almost, as if Maroon 5 was attempting with that one song to rope in all the Lady Gaga fans of the world, especially in the "La La La La" chorus line. ""Lucky Strike" tries to strike a balance between the guitar-driven music the group is known for with a Cobra Starship-like club influence and as far as the production goes, it is definitely not one of Ryan Tedder's better work and a result also falls short and flat as well. And for some reason, "Fortune Teller" just didn't work...it was either the poorly executed dance floor-feel or the liberal application of Autotune not working for Levine's natural falsetto. Those three tracks definitely felt like they fell flat and took steps back.
There were other flat-sounding tracks, but this time more of a product of playing it too safe in an attempt to stay on the radio like the first single "Payphone," which could have been so much better without the liberal use of Autotune and the now-pretty overused guest vocals from a rapper, especially someone of Wiz Khalifa's limited caliber. On top of that, this song could have been another "Harder to Breathe" or even "Misery" with a far much darker, raw arrangement; the song comes off a bit too schizophrenic, biting lyrics over a bad relationship with the payphone as a framing device set to a oddly breezy, bass drum beat-driven dance arrangement. But then again, if they had gone much darker with the arrangement, it probably wouldn't have passed muster on the current state of Top 40 radio. Ditto for album opener "One More Night," whose musical arrangement sounds even more ridiculous if you watched the music video.
Now it is not to say Overexposed is all questionably bad. The album does have its moments like the Coldplay-influenced "Daylight." The track shies away from the flatly executed electronic element, goes for a more familiar organic element and allows Levine the album's first vocally shining moment.
"Ladykiller" is the first song that delivers the entire package of what makes Maroon 5 tick while also keeping with the new direction. The funk comes back in this one and Levine pays homage to Michael Jackson in the chorus with his trademark falsetto. "Sad" hands down is likely one of the best tracks on the entire album and is such an ironic song title. The piano-driven ballad delivers the second truly shining vocal moment for Levine and is certain to make long time fans of the band sad that they chose to not showcase more of this.
"Doin' Dirt" delivers the first moment in which everything the band was aiming for in the first place all come together. They capture some very catchy lyrics; spin a high-energy, club-driven modern beat accentuated by Shellback's synth flashes. Unlike the preceding track "Tickets," "Doin' Dirt" executes in flawless fashion and should attract a slew of remixes.
Final track "Beautiful Goodbye" is probably the best and strongest track on the album. It is the only time Maroon 5 reverts to their pop/rock past as they also show why they can still rock the whole acoustic thing (if you do not have it, you must check out 1.22.03 Acoustic!). This song could have easily closed out their first three records.
In the end Overexposed shows how way far out the band has gotten from their Songs About Jane days. The only question is, have they strayed too far away from what has made them what they have been? And the answer is for this reviewer is yes, they have strayed a bit too far off the reservation. Their bid to stay relevant at the top of the pop charts for the most part is flat and at certain points intolerable at worst, pandering at best. There are indeed moments and a couple shining moments, but all in all Overexposed in arguably not one of their better efforts and that is quite unfortunate since they have so much depth and so much credibility. As a result the question on whether or not their creative change to fully embracing pop music is a right one and in this reviewer's opinion, there were not enough moments to say yes it was. Dare to say, their fifth album really may ultimately define their path and legacy.