Review Summary: Maroon 5 throws on hip-hop hoods and baggier pants. They're still from The Gap, though.
Black people love Maroon 5.
Bold statement, I know. It's a good time to mention here that I'm a black guy myself, and believe it or not, I'm going somewhere with this. But yes, there is a secretly secret high correlation between black people, specifically those eclectic hip-hop fans, and loving Maroon 5, and possibly in the same way that black people love John Mayer and also love Chris Martin: there's something in the way they completely own up to their guitar dork-funk caucasianyness that makes them enjoyable to an audience you wouldn't expect. So it's no surprise that an album like this would eventually surface: for the most part, Call and Response
is a collection of hip-hop big wigs showing their surprising love for the band. But it is in no way a hip-hop album: no one has the balls to take away what makes Levine and co. what they truly are.
But the danger with getting involved with a remix album with a band like Maroon 5 is that you are messing with a very good, proven formula: Songs About Jane
and It Won't Be Soon Before Long
are two records that have achieved massive success at the very least in their adult-alternative genre. And as various producers break down and rebuild some of the group's definitive singles and other tracks, it's easy to split the album into two parts: the first 10 songs come majorally with a more urban feel, the latter with an intense robotic techno vibe. As a result, there's good remixes, bad remixes, and some select ones that manage to give their originals a good run for their money- and that's saying something.
On the back end, most of the dance mixes feel like filler: Paul Oakenfold's "If I Never See Your Face Again" is as enjoyable as techno gets, and DJ Tiesto's "Not Falling Apart" is absolutely screaming to be pumped in your local Abercrombie. On the slower side, Deerhoof makes a sweeter "Goodnight Goodnight" that works. Bloodshy & Avant (think Britney's "Toxic", "Piece Of Me") give "Little Of Your Time" an excellent stuttery hip-pop snyth makeover, but for the second part at least, there's not much different here other than lots of machine noise, definitely a lot for a Maroon 5 album. And it doesn't always work: of Montreal's take on "Time" is trumped by Bloodshy & Avant's version, Ali Shaheed Muhammed's "Better That We Break" is mumbly and sloppy in a bad way, and Cut Copy's "This Love" is unnecessary... all 6 minutes of it.
Which brings you to the first half of the album: the part loaded with tons of well-known hip-hop producers and arguably the more important section. It begins the same way the album ends, with another "If I Never See Your Face Again" remix, but minus Rihanna and plus Swizz Beatz. It's exactly what you'd expect a Swizz-Maroon collaboration to sound like: it's dance hip-hop, with a rap intro and an sample of Run DMC's "Peter Piper" that you'd, er, shake a tailfeather to. But that's about as radio as it gets: there's quite an interesting collection of tunes you wouldn't entirely expect from the names attached to them. Just Blaze takes all the fun out of "Makes Me Wonder"- it's slower, moodier, stranger, and in the best way, and it even manages to include a bit of "This Love" by the time it's over. Tricky Stewart's "This Love", on the other hand, takes a small cue from The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" and fuses it with funky drums and spacey synth. "Harder To Breathe", the one song I was afraid to see remixed because it's my favorite, is actually done well by The Cool Kids, where they flow extremely well ("Say it's hard to breathe? / We are not that high... / Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale...") over a largely drum-and-cymbal baed production of their own creation.
Of the 18 efforts to make a successful Maroon 5 remix, though, Mark Ronson takes the cake. The churchy-funk trumpet twang of "Wake Up Call" features Mary J. Blige, and comes together as a completely different song from it's ballsier edgy murder of an original. Blige surprisingly fits very well with Ronson and Levine, and you wouldn't say it's better than its predecessor, rather they stand on two different levels of great music. It bests David Banner's remix of the same song, and a "Shiver" remix by DJ Quick will remind you of it, though not quite as well done.
There's some duds on this end, too: there's not really a difference in Questlove's "Sunday Morning", and Pharrell is the biggest disappointment: there's not much thought put into his mix of "She Will Be Loved"; it sounds as if he just emailed in a random beat, though it's a decent one. Altogether, the album as a whole is on the fence: it's really in between that 3 and that 3.5, a little better than good, but not exactly great. The deciding factor? The five-fingered punch of Ronson's "Call", Tricky's "Love", Blaze's "Wonder", Bloodshy & Avant's "Time", and Cool Kids' "Breathe", is solid, but just not enough to make you forgive some other, less thought-out tracks. But it's a holdover until their next full album comes out, in which case they might actually think about creating some originals with producers like Ronson, who could fit them like a glove. Call and Response
, more than anything, tends to emphasize just how good a band, even if just lyrically and vocally, Maroon 5 is: you might add the hip-hop, but you can't fake the dork-funk.