Review Summary: Maroon 5 moves like Levine on its 4th album. Unfortunately, it's all in the wrong direction.
Overexposed is without a doubt the best adjective to describe modern day Maroon 5. “Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon 5’s biggest hit to date, was inescapable and Adam Levine in particular has been receiving more than his fair share of exposure with his gig on “The Voice.” More importantly than the exposure that “Moves Like Jagger” afforded the band, however, was the distinct departure in style that it showed us. Instead of the funk-influence and near-R&B style favored by the 5, “Moves Like Jagger” featured a beat manufactured by hit-maker Benny Blanco and a guest appearance by, of all people, Christina Aguilera. The message was clear: Maroon 5 has changed. This message is reinforced on Overexposed- although ‘run into the ground’ may be a more apt description for the sloppy mess that Maroon 5 offers us.
The reason that “Moves Like Jagger” was such a success was because everything happened to fall into place. From the recent Ke$ha-inspired fascination with Mick Jagger to Levine’s soaring falsetto on the chorus, “Moves Like Jagger” was the perfect single at the right time. Replicating the success of “Moves Like Jagger,” which is what Overexposed tries desperately to do 12 times, is far from easy. The most lacking element from the songs on Overexposed is fun. “Moves Like Jagger” was a devilishly fun song- something that can’t be said for the songs on Overexposed. The songs range from seriously dull (“Sad,” “Beautiful Goodbye”) to missed opportunities (“Ladykiller,” “Lucky Strike,” “Doin Dirt”) with no real punch aside from the two singles, which are regrettably placed at the very front of the album. The drab monotony of club-ready beats wears on you after 12 songs in a row with no break to speak of.
The main problem with Overexposed is that Maroon 5 no longer sounds like a band, rather, they have become the Adam Levine show. Blame it on his popularity, rising star power or sheer talent, but there is no substance to the band beyond Levine’s vocals. Frankly, this detracts greatly from the appeal of Maroon 5. Part of the reason the band broke through in the first place was their unique combination of soulful frontman and balance between radio-ready riffs and funk rock groove. Be it the piano intro of “This Love” or the brilliant guitar line on “Shiver,” the music was almost important to Songs About Jane as Levine was. After 10 years, this seems to be lost on the group, whose lone contributions are on some the blandest songs on the album. The instrumentalists are no longer around to provide spice to an otherwise middling pop act- they’re there to spectate as Adam Levine struts his stuff.
The best example of everything wrong with Overexposed is lead single “Payphone.” Everything about it reeks of a “Moves Like Jagger” ripoff- same producer (Blanco), high profile guest appearance (Wiz Khalifa, whose verse is among his worst ever) and infectious chorus. It shows us exactly what Maroon 5 is trying to be- mainstream relevant, but without knowing what really plays. The worst part is that it works- it’s the best song on the album. The repeated success of these songs has emboldened Levine to keep turning out schlock under the delusion that it’s “fresh.”
Throughout the album, they keep showing how out of touch they are with current culture. This is reflected in the title of the song (when was the last time you saw a payphone") as well as the song compositions. The hooks on Overexposed are often weak but even worse, none of the verses are memorable. A sure way to create buzz now is to have the verses memorable in their own right (Tik Tok, Last Friday Night, anything Gaga) and strong verse writing was something Maroon 5 excelled at for many years. On Overexposed each verse exists just to set up the hook- a cheap way once again to appeal to fans who know Levine from his newfound mainstream appeal with no context other than previous radio success. This style may work for Justin Bieber, but falls flat on Overexposed. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the fans that this album makes a bold attempt to lure in have likely already been converted. Hands All Over, their previous effort, hit #2 and went platinum. Levine is trying to convert a crowd that he already has while potentially alienating a huge chunk of his fanbase. This lack of awareness is part of the reason why this record happened, as well as being a big reason for its poor quality.
With a full-on departure from its signature sound, Maroon 5 has collapsed under the weight of the overexposure that they found themselves subjected to. In order to remain socially relevant, which, it’s important to note, they always were, the band has removed all semblance of artistic merit that they once had. Maroon 5 found mainstream success by going against the grain, and has now homogenized itself into the Adam Levine Show. His voice still holds great appeal, but the loss of actually instruments has made the group boring. The arrangements now exist just to complement Levine which ultimately just bores. This may sound fresh to the masses with no prior experience with Maroon 5 and are looking for “Moves Like Jagger” clones but, for those who aren’t, it’ll sound like exactly what it is: a low-quality pop record that’s been done too many times before.