Maroon 5 • V • Interscope • US Release Date: September 2, 2014
Overexposed, Maroon 5’s fourth album marked a change of pace for Maroon 5. After three albums of a clearly established sound with minor tweaks, Overexposed opted for trendier pop. Despite drawing the ire of some critics and fans, it also produced gargantuan hits. Balance characterizes Maroon 5’s fifth album V, where commercial pop cues remain, but also an allowance for experimentation and loyalty to their identity is welcome.
Promo single “Maps” opens V. Sound it is, “Maps” isn’t as distinctive as Maroon 5’s most elite hits. Pleasant and something of a ‘grower’, “Maps” never quite feels like a home run. Still, vocally, Levine’s tenor intact with falsetto easily compels.
“Animals” packs more punch infusing that signature soul-pop vibe the band is renowned for. Big drums and slick production exemplify the urban influence of “Animals”. The chorus is even catchier than “Maps”: “Baby I’m preying on you tonight / hunt you down eat you alive / just like animals…” This is a home run ladies and gentlemen.
“It Was Always You” surprises with its synths. While the sound contrasts the band’s previous work, it’s an effective departure, partly because the ‘core’ of their sound remains. There’s no jeopardy to the soulful, rhythmic guitar. Even though the electro component is firmly planted, the song also rocks (electro-rock). Beyond the sound, the songwriting is solid, led by a catchy chorus.
“Unkiss Me” continues adding colorful synths. “Unkiss Me” proves more pop/urban-oriented than “It Was Always You.” Vocally, Levine’s tone is exceptional here, finding him using his lower register more. Lyrically it shines thanks to wise moments like “You can’t light a fire, if the candle’s melted,” a larger statement of failed love.
“Sugar” marks a return to the band’s signature sound. Danceable, “Sugar” is by no means a departure. It’s ‘tried and true’ yet also arguably less ‘daring’ than more experimental cuts. Ultimately, it’s Maroon 5 flexing hit-making abilities and Levine slaughtering with his nasty falsetto.
“Leaving California” feels warm from the onset, amplified by thoughtful vocal production. A number most apt to draw Sting comparisons, “Leaving California” hearkens back to the 80s, while keeping in step in the 10s.
“In Your Pocket” features pounding drums and electronic influence. More interesting than the production is the theme. Levine wants to see his girlfriend’s phone because he knows she’s cheating: “And all the times I came to you / I never, ever lied / Show me that phone in your pocket girl / how me that phone in your pocket.”
“New Love” catches the ear from the jump, thanks to cutting edge production and overall assertiveness. The second verse particularly opens assertively: “What the f*ck, I got nothing to lose / I’m a salve to the way that you move.” The chorus shines, with Levine flaunting his upper register over a sensational electro soundscape. “Coming Back For You” keeps things popping. Like everything else, the song could be a worthy single, without being the best song of Maroon 5’s career. The pieces are in place with little to nitpick.
“Feelings” sounds like an update of the band’s own sound. Hearkening back once more to the 80s (New Wave), the song sounds equally relevant in 2014. As always, Levine trash talks: “You and me let’s go all night / going so high, we f*ck the sky / some with me now, f*ck that guy.” More impressive than the f-bombs is that Levine continues to expand vocally.
“My Heart Is Open,” concludes the standard edition of V with an assist from Gwen Stefani. Shockingly, there’s no extraterrestrial pop sound created by the collaboration. The results remain pleasant, if tamer than anticipated. The deluxe version lays claim to three worthwhile songs: “Shoot Love,” “Sex and Candy,” and “Lost Stars.”
Ultimately, V is much stronger than expected. It trumps Overexposed, which had moments, but felt like a substantial departure, sometimes ‘sell-out’ for the band. Perhaps it was a necessary transitional album to ease fans into Maroon 5’s new era. Regardless, V finds Maroon 5 pulling it off better, without losing their identity in evolving their sound.
Favorites: “Maps,” “Animals,” “It Was Always You,” “Feelings”