Monday, 31 March 2014

Maroon 5 "Overexposed" Review

...OK, right from the start, I will admit that this is going to be a REALLY odd album for me to review, for quite a few reasons:

  1. My familiarity with Maroon 5 (apart from this album) is pretty much limited to "This Love" and "She Will Be Loved".
  2. I am not massively fond of either of those songs. They aren't bad, but I wouldn't say I'm a big fan of them by any means.
  3. Adam Levine's voice gets on my nerves when I have to listen to it for too long.
  4. I usually tend to avoid modern pop music unless it's either VERY good (and, by that, I mean "Has a very good reputation among people I know who normally don't like modern pop music") or I'm so bored that I'm just browsing stuff to pass the time.
So, yeah, I'm technically not in a great place to review this album. I've got so much bias against it that you could be forgiven for asking "Why are you reviewing this if you're so inadequately prepared to review it fairly?" Well, my surprisingly talkative friend, I would respond to that by saying that an album should be able to be judged as a record in and of itself.

Plus, I don't actually hate this record. Yes, I'm very biased against it, but I will say that the record gets at least a few things right on it. Granted, a lot of those things are minor in the grand scale of things, but I still can't say that it's completely irredeemable.

So, now that we've got that out of the way, let's start by looking at the history of Maroon 5, for the benefit of those not familiar with them (although, really, you'd have to have been living under a rock for a good while to have completely missed Maroon 5: they're not exactly a small band!). Well, they have their roots in the band Kara's Flowers, a band made of four of the original members of Maroon 5: Adam Levine, Jesse Carmichael, Michael Madden and Ryan Dusick. Surprisingly enough, the band had very little funk influence. In fact, from what I've read about the only album they released worldwide, it was mostly alternative rock, with their self-released debut actually having more in common with grunge.

...I swear to God, I didn't make that up. Here's the music video to the only single Kara's Flowers ever released, if you don't believe me!, as you might have guessed, Kara's Flowers didn't catch on. They were dropped from their label after their official debut album (titled The Fourth World) proved to be a commercial failure (selling something like 5000 copies). However, they carried on for a bit (although not on as big a level as last time, due to all of the members going to college) and eventually got an offer to join Octane Records after developing their sound a bit. They changed their name to Maroon 5 after the addition of guitarist James Valentine (formerly of the band Square, who released one album over the course of their short career, This Magnificent Nonsense) and set to work on Songs About Jane.

Which was rather popular, to put it politely.

Seriously, if you don't know how popular this album was, let's just say that it's sold over 4.8 million copies since it was released. That might not sound like a lot to some people (it's been out for about 11 years and three quarters now), but it still works out to over 400,000 copies sold per year. And that figure is from April 2012, so it might well have topped 5 million copies sold by now. Not bad for a debut album, is it?

Anyway, it took nearly five years before the follow up album (It Won't Be Soon Before Long...which has to be one of the dumbest album titles I've seen!) was released, with new drummer Matt Flynn behind the kit. It's sold over 5 million copies since it was released, according to a figure from 2011.

After a wait of about three years and four months, the band released their third album, Hands All Over. According to what I've seen online, this album got a bit of a mixed reaction, compared to their last two. Not necessarily a bad one, but you could kind of get the feeling that this album was not quite as well loved as the last two and, indeed, it seems to have sold noticeably less well than the last two albums. Granted, that one might be because it was released more recently than the last two, but it doesn't seem to have crossed the 3 million copies mark yet, which is not a great sign when your last two records have crossed the 5 million copies mark! Also, a lot of those sales were caused by the success of "Moves Like Jagger" (which is also included on here as a bonus track, for some reason...). With that fact in mind, the band appear to have taken the conscious decision to work with outside songwriters, went from a more pop influenced sound and pushed Adam Levine even more to the front of the spotlight than he already was (although the fact that Jesse Carmichael temporarily left the band to focus on his studies probably didn't help, as it meant that there were less people in the band to focus on...).

And the results...were even MORE mixed than last time, but it sold better than the last one, so I have a horrible feeling that this is going to be their music direction from now on. While I won't use the word "Sellout" (you can't really sell out when you already had a strong pop undertone to your music and were already really popular, if you ask me, especially considering all they've done is pushed the pop undertones to the forefront!), I wouldn't blame Maroon 5 fans for having words for this album.

HOWEVER, I wouldn't say this album is quite as bad as you'd expect me to say it is. Indeed, I would say that it has some very enjoyable moments if you look at it on its own merits and put Maroon 5's original sound aside. The problem, though, is that it doesn't really sound like a band effort: if anything, it feels more like it should have been Adam Levine's solo album, due to how little the rest of the band contributed to the songwriting. Now, to be fair, the band's second album was mostly composed by Levine on his own (with some input from the other members), so you could fairly make a case that this is not an accurate statement. However, the key difference is that Levine composed the second album mostly on his own. This album, however, has outside writers. Now, I'll admit: a good outside writer can bring something new to a band's sound without taking away from it, often providing the band with ideas that they never would have come up with and help them to develop as songwriters themselves. But the most common result is that outside writers tend to try to force their style of writing on the band, often without considering whether it actually suits the band or not.

You have two guesses as to what happened here, and the first one doesn't count.

Anyway, I've raged about all of this without actually talking about the album. So, let's actually start digging in to this.

First of all, I have to comment upon the album cover. I imagine this would make a lot more sense if you were higher than a kite, but all I'm reminded of is the animated Yellow Submarine movie, only with a pink filter over it and with some influence from Picasso thrown in. Basically, it doesn't make a huge amount of sense. If there's meant to be a deeper meaning behind all of this, I have absolutely no idea what it's supposed to be. Also, as much as I know bringing up My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a bad idea across the internet, I have to point out that the show as a whole has a far better colour contrast than this artwork does: I've watched the entire show aired to date and I've never felt that I was being swamped with colour to the extent that I do when I look at this!

Anyway, getting to the album itself, I will say that it is surprisingly varied, covering quite a few different styles of music (although all of them are radio friendly styles and, to my recollection, none of them are really connected to rock yeah, don't expect to hear the band suddenly attempting to do anything like Killswitch Engage or Slipknot). I suppose the issue is that they are very hit and miss with the quality of the material. Sometimes, they produce a very strong song that is really enjoyable to listen to and can stick with you for a good while (see "The Man Who Never Lied"), but the record also has a few songs that commit the unforgivable sin (for a pop album) of being completely forgettable.

I will say that, at least to me, the first half of the album contains the best songs. "Daylight" is a very enjoyable ballad that is at least strong enough for me to say that it's worth a listen if you aren't opposed to pop music in general. I also have to admit to having a soft spot of "Lucky Strike", despite the fact that there are more than a few moments lyrically that sound like they could have been borrowed from a glam metal song without needing any changes. And then we get to probably my favourite track on the record, "The Man Who Never Lied". I can't quite place why I like this song so much, but I do really enjoy it! It's just got a really strong hook and is a lot of fun to listen to. If I were to criticise it, I would say that the lyrics really needed some extra work, but I think I can give them a bit of a free pass on this one, as I don't think they're completely awful. They just have a few moments that can wind me up when I think about them too much. Also, "Love Somebody" is fairly enjoyable. It's nothing brilliant, but I can't complain about it. I also don't have any real issues with "Moves Like Jagger", but I can't really count it as part of this album, considering it's a single that was released separately from any albums and it also appeared on the re-release of Hands All Over.

Observant people (or those with the album up on wikipedia in another tab) will no doubt have noticed that those tracks are tracks 3 to 6 (and track 13, if you want to count "Moves Like Jagger") on the album track list. Well...that's because the other tracks are when the album really starts to fall apart for me. Some of them aren't bad, but none of them really catch me like the other ones did. For the most part, every song that I've not mentioned in the paragraph above is just dull or wrecks itself either due to dumb lyrics ("Tickets") or being musically uninteresting ("Ladykiller"), although "Sad" has a weirder problem: it's let down because Levine just doesn't have a strong enough voice to sing a piano ballad and do it justice. "Payphone" also has a guest rap by Wiz Khalifa that flat out doesn't fit the song (It's a song about a romance that has ended, and probably quite poorly if you think about it. Why's Khalifa rapping about spending as much money as he can and having cars that start with the push of a button? If he's trying to sound like the woman on the other side of the phone...he didn't really put that across. At all.), although I don't like the song a huge amount anyway, so that doesn't really help it. "Beautiful Goodbye", the closing track on the album, is about the closest these other eight songs get to being a good song, but, by the time you've finished sitting through the rest of the album, you're probably just glad it's nearly over. Credit to the writers, though, the chorus isn't bad!

The performances on this record...well, Levine is very noticeable, but everyone else? For all I know, the entire album was done by season musicians, that's how little presence the rest of the band has on the album! There's so little guitar on this album that you'd be forgiven for thinking that James Valentine wasn't even on the record. I've got bass enhancing headphones, so I know that there definitely was a bassist on the album and there are certainly drums on the album, but there's very little of the funk additions to their playing (unless you count "Ladykiller") that helps you to recognise that it's definitely them. If all of the effects are played by Jesse Carmichael (which is possible: he only went on hiatus from the band a few months before it was released), then I think he maybe overdid it a bit. The best comparison I can make would be comparing Dream Theater's two most well known keyboardists, Kevin Moore and Jordan Rudess. If Jesse's playing on their previous albums was more like Kevin Moore in Dream Theater (so, not overbearing the proceedings, but instead focusing on supporting the music), then his playing on this album is like Jordan Rudess in Dream Theater: it's almost literally everywhere across this album, detracting from the album as a whole because it detracts from the group sound. If it's not Jesse doing most of the sounds on this record, then I take that back, as I didn't realise it wasn't him. And reiterate my comment that he might have not been on this record at all, for all I know...

The production is actually fine. Yeah, it's on the loud side and slightly lacking in the bass guitar (when I listen to it without my bass enhancing headphones), but I don't think it does anything it really shouldn't be doing.

So, to sum's got some solid tunes, but it's surrounded by so much mediocrity that I can't really say it's worth picking up if looked at on its own merits. If looked at when you compare it to what Maroon 5 are known for sounding like, then it falls pretty far short of expectations. If you want to pick up a pop album, then this isn't completely bad, but I wouldn't say it's an album you'll be loving, as there's more than a few tracks on here that you'll be skipping very quickly. If you don't like pop, then give this a miss. There's nothing here that is going to win you over.

Final Rating: 4 Out Of 10

This album isn't as terrible as my rating probably makes it sound, but I don't see there being a lot of reasons to pick this up unless you're already a Maroon 5 fan (and, even then, you'd need to be very fond of modern pop to enjoy this more than their first three albums). Maroon 5 would be best advised to not repeat what they did for this album and try to reconnect with their roots again, as I fear another album like this will only lead to a lot of disappointed fans and diminishing returns.

(Also, something interesting that I spotted while doing my research and wanted to share: apparently, it was while touring for the band's second album that Adam Levine admitting thinking that the band would only make one more album before disbanding, as he felt they had reached their peak. I'll admit, as much as this will make me sound like a jerk, I suspect that doing so might have been the more sensible idea, with the benefit of hindsight. I don't know what made Levine change his mind, but it's just interesting to note that the band did consider disbanding before "Moves Like Jagger" was even a thing. Imagine what the band's legacy would be like if that had happened: released two very strong albums and took a bit of a dip in quality on the third, but were still a very respectable band in the mainstream music scene. Now...well, the "respectable" bit could be up for debate, depending on who you ask. As could the "band" bit, if you judge only by this album and don't trust James Valentine's claims from April 2013 that they've written some darker stuff for their fifth album that leans more towards what they did on Songs About Jane...)

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