Artist: Maroon 5
Something of a rushed job in the wake of their “Moves Like Jagger” success last year, Overexposed is an awkward and lumbering album, yet one that musters some real gems before it gives out. It’s underwritten and bland, marked by a persistent insecurity as to how it wants to sound. Maroon 5 aren’t exactly the bearers of profound, thought-provoking musicality but their penchant for crafting a sleek pop tune has gone somewhat awry here. The title is fitting, as the tinkering and differing approaches taken to these tracks indicates a catch-all attitude. It’s as if the band is attempting to be as widely pleasing as possible, an attitude that smacks of uncertainty and adds to the record’s rather pedestrian tone. Intriguingly, lead guitarist James Valentine has said that the success of “Moves Like Jagger” compelled them to work further with an outside writer on this album, and it’s possible that the mix-up in the writing has led to the shaky foundations of these songs. The mainstream approach does yield some really strong tracks, such as the gorgeously minimal “Sad,” but too often it comes across as contrived.
Overexposed has few highlights, but its stronger tracks do leave a very convincing mark. “One More Night” is a solid opener; kooky, jazzy, and cleanly executed. It is quite easygoing for a first track but there’s an air of conviction to Adam Levine’s vocals that grounds it, making it smoother and more serious than the playful instrumentation might suggest. “Payphone” has a lighter touch. The twinkling innocence in the piano brightens the rather despondent lyrics, and although it’s not hugely engaging, it has a straightforward and wide-ranging appeal that makes it amiable as opposed to bland. The appearance of Wiz Khalifa is ill-advised but adds some spice to the closing paragraphs. “Sad” is genuinely quite lovely, playing to the more oft-maligned banshee qualities of Levine’s voice. The sparseness of sound makes it open and honest, with the keys reflecting the soaring emotions. Levine sings with a discomforted pain that perfectly evokes the difficulties of confronting inner turmoil, and his steady performance coupled with the song’s bare dressing makes it very moving. “Tickets” has a spark to it also, swathed in a cutting arrogance. It could just as easily be annoying as it is catchy but its appeal is stronger than many of the others. The persistently sullen beat keeps attentions focused and the combination of group vocals and grinding bass lines towards the end is inspired.
Unfortunately however, these songs are nestled amid a sea of under-par efforts, and it’s the latter that really define the album. Most are merely dull or sappy as opposed to completely tragic, but it fogs what little spark the album does offer and mires it in colourless waffling. “Daylight” is watery and uninteresting, a pop song walled in by clichéd optimistic meanderings. PMA is fine so long as it isn’t underwritten by something so blasé; and believe me, you’ve heard this before. “Love Somebody” is jittery and leering. It’s like a false sweetener, when you don’t know the right amount to use and end up overdoing it. The track is coated in a sticky gloss that repels rather than endears. “Ladykiller” lacks firepower. It’s not as mundane as the others, and the band’s efforts to craft something subtler and streetwise can be appreciated. However, as a whole it’s too glossy and haphazard to succeed.
There’s a brief resurgence in quality towards the end, with “Fortune Teller” offering a trippy and abrasive experience that’s most enjoyable until the novelty wears off. More so than the others, this track seems to actually achieve the sound it’s aiming for, meaning that despite its pedestrian tendencies it’s a better fit. “Beautiful Goodbye” is simpering and watery but likeable, offering a wafting, dreamlike conclusion.
For a band with such ubiquitous chart appeal, Maroon 5 show none of their swagger on this album. Overexposed second-guesses itself too often and can’t quite seem to find an invigorating sense of life. It should please the fans and has plenty for non-assuming pop enthusiasts, but for those of us partial to a guilty pleasure or two there’s precious little here to enjoy.
Review written by Grace Duffy