Album Review: Maroon 5 “Overexposed”

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* This is a review of the deluxe version of the album*

I’m a fan of pop music. I’m a fan of Maroon 5. And yet, I’m not a fan of Maroon 5’s 4th studio album, Overexposed. Following the underwhelming response to the band’s last album, the underrated Hands All Over, Maroon 5 has released a new album that capitalizes on their newfound success stemming from last summer’s hit single “Moves Like Jagger.” Instead of simply relying on their own very capable songwriting skills, the band has brought on a number of high-profile collaborators like Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Shellback, and Ryan Tedder among others. The result is an album that plays very much to the pop crowd (not surprisingly, considering Martin, who also executive produced the album, has written hit songs for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, and many others) and would fit quite well amidst Top 40 mainstream radio of today. That is also what is fundamentally wrong with the album.

I love Maroon 5, but with a few exceptions, Overexposed is almost too pop/too Top 40, and doesn’t quite sound like Maroon 5. I mentioned in a previous post how Maroon 5’s signature sound is that of pop/rock with some added soul/funk influences. That fusion sound is distinctly theirs and sets them apart from other groups in the industry. With the new album, they have delved deeper into the pop world, a decision I seriously question as a fan. To me, there isn’t much to Overexposed that feels distinctively Maroon 5 and is so overproduced that it sounds like any pop artist could have done the song. Maybe that’s because only 4 of the 14 original songs were actually written by the other band members alongside frontman Adam Levine, as opposed to just Adam plus the new collaborators. That in itself is a huge departure to what the band has done previously, with most (if not all) of their songs written by the band themselves, and few collaborators.

Track-by-Track Review:

  1. One More Night – Opening up the album, this reggae-tinged track gives us a first glimpse of what to expect for the rest of the album. Mainly, that it’s a departure from the usual for the band. I wasn’t very fond of this song at first listen because I thought the song might’ve been better suited for somebody else. But I’ve come to really like the song, partially because the dance fan in me can picture some great choreography to go with it.
  2. Payphone ft. Wiz Khalifa – The first single took me some getting used to. I already felt as though it was very pop and the Wiz Khalifa verse seemed kind of tacked on as some pop songs with a rap verse tend to be. But hearing it on the radio against all the frivolous dance tracks, it just seemed better and like ‘One More Night’, I find myself picturing choreo to it, particularly during the rap verse. Upon hearing it against the rest of the album, I realize that this is actually the closest (albeit a little bit of a stretch) to classic Maroon 5. As a friend of mine also pointed out, the lyrics aren’t entirely there, especially with the use of said payphone. I see what she’s saying that the metaphor wasn’t used more, though at the same time, I wouldn’t have wanted the song to become cheesy if it was overwrought with phone analogies.
  3. Daylight – I honestly thought that this was a Ryan Tedder-produced song when I initially heard it, because that’s what it reminded me of. To my surprise, it actually wasn’t. It sounds to me a little generic pop, like it could have been a song written for these new young pop stars coming out, not a band that has been around for over a decade.
  4. Lucky Strike – The first of two Ryan Tedder produced songs, ‘Lucky Strike’ comes off as the next step up from ‘Moves Like Jagger’, with its dance-pop glitz sound. It’s a sound that worked better on songs like ‘Give A Little More’ and ‘Get Back in My Life’ because it was more grounded/natural on those songs, as opposed to very produced to the point where you wonder where the band actually is on the track.
  5. The Man Who Never Lied – Musically, it sounds like they tried to take a cue from Coldplay. At the same time, it sounds like some other pop/rock bands who are trying to get into the mainstream. In other words, it’s (again) overproduced and generic; doesn’t sound like Maroon 5 at all.
  6. Love Somebody – What I said before on ‘Lucky Strike’ being so very produced to the point where you wonder the band itself is on the track, completely applies here. I barely hear the faintest of real instruments on the song. Ryan Tedder, you are 0 for 2.
  7. Ladykiller – Finally, we get a song written by the band and features real instruments! The chorus evokes a feeling of the 70s, but I only wish they had expanded the lyrics a little more because the song does feel a little short.
  8. Fortune Teller – Though the band did write this song, the techno bass underlying the song just doesn’t sound right. It fits with almost everything else on the album, but in my opinion, I think it would’ve worked much better if they stripped a couple layers off. For a mid-tempo song, it’s got a little too much going on. I am really banking on this song playing better in concert than it does on the album.
  9. Sad – One of the standout tracks from the album. While the rest of the album is produced to the finest detail, ‘Sad’ stands out for featuring Adam’s vocals with only piano accompaniment. Simple, understated, no bells and whistles – just wonderful.
  10. Tickets – Despite the dance feel with a rock/punk twist, along the lines of what No Doubt was doing on their last album, the guys make it work on this song. It’s got an infectious beat and I would certainly suggest this song as being a 3rd or 4th single.
  11. Doin’ Dirt – It’s got a throwback 80’s sound to it and not in a good way (though granted, the 80s…) The lyrics really leave something to be desired, which is disappointing because I know they are capable of so much more. Without a doubt, probably my least favourite song on the album.
  12. Beautiful Goodbye – There’s a laid-back, almost reggae-inflection, feel to this song. It’s not Jason Mraz ‘I’m Yours’ laid-back style, but sort of reminds me of Andrew Allen ‘Loving You Tonight’ and a little bit of Andy Grammer ‘Keep Your Head Up’. The title invokes memories of M5’s similarly titled song ‘Sweetest Goodbye’ (probably my favourite M5 song) from SAJ, so I feel like I might be a little harsh on the song. It’s not a bad song, but might take me a few more listens to really like it.
  13. Wipe Your Eyes [Bonus Track] – Hearing this song the first time, I immediately thought that it sounds like something Safetysuit or The Script (or a mix of the two) would do. Not really liking it, even though I like the music from those other 2 bands, but this isn’t M5.
  14. Wasted Years [Bonus Track] – Any fan of M5 already knows this song. For years, all we’ve had is the live version that they performed in concert from the “Friday the 13th” DVD, which was in-between “Songs About Jane” and “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.” That live version that we’ve heard sounded like a natural progression from SAJ, with that fusion sound of theirs. This studio version that we’re finally getting, has more of a jazz/hip-hop/pop feel to it. Actually upon hearing it for the first time, it really reminded me of the version of ‘New York, New York’ found in the movie “Friends With Benefits.” I mean jazz/hip-hop can kind of throw you off a little. I don’t mind the sound, that’s not my gripe (it’s actually really cool) and I am very thankful that we actually have a studio version of the song. However, I can’t say that I wasn’t a little disappointed that the mix wasn’t simply a recorded/polished version of what we heard before in concert.
  15. Kiss [Bonus Track] – Not an original track, but rather a cover of the famous Prince song. My love for covers is endless and I must say this was a rather interesting cover. The guys did not do this as a straight cover. Instead, they changed it up and kind of countrified/blues’d it out. If there was ever proof to how The Voice has influenced M5, this would be it. Clearly, Blake Shelton’s little snippet of this song in the coaches’ Prince medley during season 2 influenced the guys, and I must say – I love it!

Final Verdict:

Don’t get me wrong, I support change and musical growth. Maroon 5 has shown a lot of musical diversity with each successive album, while still sounding distinctly like themselves. With the direction that they have taken on Overexposed, it feels a little like they tried too hard to make the album commercially successful, with its dance-y/pop vibe, that doesn’t particularly suit them that well. I mean if a song invokes a feeling like someone else could have sang it or it reminds you of another artist/band, that’s not a particularly good sign is it? Then again, this is the type of album that mainstream radio will most definitely eat up (the music industry confuses me so much these days…)

Trust me, as a fan, it pains me to say such negative things about my favourite group, but I say all this and I’m doing this because I care. I don’t expect them to make a Songs About Jane volume 2, but all I ask is for them to trust their ability as musicians and songwriters, and not feel like they have to conform in order to compete with what’s popular in music today – JUST MAKE GOOD MUSIC! I’ll chalk Overexposed as being their experimental album, as long the guys promise to take their time and gets back to what makes them Maroon 5 on the next album. There are still some good songs on the album that doesn’t make it a total wash, but all things considered, I can’t help but feel a little letdown.

Maroon 5 Celebrates 10 Years of “Songs About Jane”

It goes without saying that Maroon 5 is one of my favourite music acts in the industry. So it is hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the guys of Maroon 5 released their debut album “Songs About Jane.” Though I hate to admit it, I didn’t know who M5 was until about a year and a half later, right before (or around) the time that everybody else caught on to who these guys from California were. It doesn’t happen very often that I remember the exact way I found out about an artist or the moment I fell in love with an artist; a lot of times these days, you hear a song on the radio or on a television show and get interested, or you hear the opening act for a big superstar. For M5, I remember exactly how I came to know about them. It was in the good old MTV TRL days, and they were doing like a new music week thing. Maroon 5 was one of the performers during that week, they performed “This Love” and I’ve been a fan since. I’ve seen them 5 times in concert, bought pretty much every official CD release (including their remix album…and I usually HATE remixes!), and been a complete supporter of their careers.

To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of “Songs About Jane”, Maroon 5 have re-released the album. This special re-release comes with a second disc filled with the original demos of all the songs featured on the album, as well as a few choice unreleased songs that were only found on some international versions of the album (though any true M5 fan would have found a way in the past 10 years to get their hands on these songs). It honestly fascinates me to hear the demo version of these songs that I have heard millions of times over the year. The demo of “This Love” includes a great guitar solo, not so different from when they perform the song live in concert. “Shiver” originally had violins in it. The version of “She Will Be Loved” that we all know and love, already has a quality to it that makes you feel as though it could be part of a romance movie soundtrack, but with the demo version, you could almost picture the scene of a movie that it would play against (or maybe that’s just me because I’m a movie geek). Interesting for me is hearing “Not Coming Home” because if you really think about it, we never got an actual studio version of the song. The version that’s on SAJ is technically a live recording of the song, fine-tuned to make it sound as though it was a studio recording.

“Songs About Jane” is an album that, in this fickle music industry, still holds up 10 years later. Not to mention, it was a debut album, which can sometimes be tough for a new act to make a well-rounded debut. Though it took a little time for people to catch on, Maroon 5 very much succeeded in giving the industry a taste of what they had to give with SAJ – they are a pop/rock band with R&B/soul influences. Here’s to hoping that they continue doing what their doing for many more years!

Cover Songs: Love Them, Hate Them, Can’t Get Enough of Them

I love cover songs. I think it is totally awesome when artists sing another artist’s song, especially during concerts because it mixes things up a little bit. On her recent “Stronger” tour, Kelly Clarkson performed at least 3 cover songs at each stop: 2 were part of the setlist (Florence + the Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms” and Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t”) plus a fan request. I’ve heard Maroon 5 sing “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “If I Ain’t Got You.” James Morrison and Diane Birch once performed “With A Little Help From My Friends.” John Mayer has sung “Free Fallin” and “Gone.” Justin Timberlake sang “This Love” at one of his benefit concerts (even though he technically performed that with Maroon 5). This is just the tip of the iceberg and I could go on and on with amazing covers.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized where I draw the line when it comes to covers. Hearing covers in concert is one thing because I’m watching an artist I’m a fan of so they can’t do much wrong in my books. But over the years, watching so many TV shows where covers abound like Idol, The Voice, X-Factor, and now with Glee + Smash, my reaction to song choices vary from the usual groan and eye-roll when a song that’s been OVERDONE is sung again (11 years of Idol will turn you into a cynic) or total excitement. There has been countless times when we’ve heard female contestants sing songs by Mariah, Whitney, Celine, etc. even though they don’t have the range for it. But then there are a lot of cases where singers do a fantastic job covering the song by either changing up the song to fit their style (Hello David Cook’s version of “Always Be My Baby” and Kris Allen’s “Heartless” that’s STILL on my iPod) or just simply singing the HELL out of the song. Some covers are even better than the original. Glee, in my opinion, does this the best – take an okay song or one that’s entirely overplayed and make it better/worth listening to (i.e. Blame It On the Alcohol, Teenage Dream, We Found Love). For certain songs though, I’ve found that I can’t even like the cover, despite how good it might be.

In the episode of Glee entitled “On My Way”, the Troubletones sang Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”. I was excited to hear it, but at the same time, it was like “Why couldn’t they pick another song?” I think it comes down to the fact that it was a single and I like Glee better when they’re not doing songs that are already on the radio. After I heard it, I felt kind of indifferent about it – it was good but I didn’t really like it. Why? I realized that I’m fiercely protective of when anyone sings Kelly’s songs. I mean I love Kelly Clarkson – she’s one of my favourite artists ever and I love her songs like they are the soundtrack to my life. So for me, I don’t think anyone should ever sing her songs, unless they can do the original justice.  Megan Hilty sang “Breakaway” on a recent episode of Smash and though there’s no denying that she has a great voice, I didn’t feel as though it carried the same weight as Kelly’s original. But again, maybe that’s because “Breakaway” was such a big song for Kelly. Then on Glee, at the end of the episode “Choke”, Lea Michele sang “Cry” off of Kelly’s “All I Ever Wanted” album and I thought she did a fantastic job with the song. It fit nicely with the storyline and worked well with Rachel Berry’s feelings, so it didn’t feel forced. Actually, it was a nice reminder of what Glee was like when it started. Now of course it really is a track-by-track basis, in terms of what I’m willing to accept.

Christina Aguilera is probably one of the best voices in the industry; she’s got a diva voice. We’ve heard people sing “Beautiful” and “The Voice Within” among other Christina songs, and it’s usually met with the same eye-roll and groan. I thought Amber Riley did a good job singing “Beautiful” on Glee, but I definitely was not happy about Darren Criss singing “Fighter” in the episode “Big Brother.” Not that there was anything really wrong with his version, but “Fighter” is one of my all-time favourite songs and no matter how much angst we’re supposed to feel from the storyline, it just can’t match Christina’s sheer power.

Then there’s Adele. Over the span of this past year, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been covered. Scratch that, over the span of the past 6 months, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been sung on TV. I’ll admit I liked  Angel Taylor and Mathai’s attempts at singing “Someone Like You” and “Rumour Has It”, respectively, during their blind auditions on The Voice. Before that, Glee did a great mash-up of those 2 songs as well. But now it’s just plain old fatigue of hearing people try to sing Adele. Just stop please.

It’s not just songs by these artists with big voices being covered that have me  up in arms. I have deliberately  sort of avoided American Idol this past season because it got tiring, with the theme weeks and the judges making no sense. But there was the one week where the theme was songs from this decade (so, the past three years in music). Seeing what the set list was ahead of time, I found it to be an interesting line-up, so I actually attempted to watch the show that week (in between my regular television shows of course). I only came out disappointed, feeling like it was a slap in the face because they not only ruined 2 Kelly Clarkson songs, but also a Maroon 5 song. I know, one should not compare a contestant’s rendition to the original, but let’s be real, it’s inevitable and you can’t help it. The contestant in question, Phillip Phillips, re-arranged Maroon 5’s “Give A Little More”. I’ll embed both versions below and judge for yourself. But while the original has a sexy quality to it (what Adam Levine does seamlessly), Phillip re-arranged it somehow to make it cheesy (Saxophone? Really?). This also doesn’t mean The Voice gets off scott-free either because I was REALLY not impressed with RaeLynn singing “Wake Up Call”. Sure the song can be made country but not by RaeLynn, sorry Blake. And I know Adam seemed to like it, but as a fan, I was not having any of it.

Those are the artists, who in recent weeks/months have been covered that I’ve had problems with. On the flip side, I always love a good Britney Spears cover. I love Britney, and to me, she’s pure pop royalty. People can say what they want about Britney, but damn does she not have some great catchy pop songs? I love it when people cover Britney because her songs aren’t obvious choices. When people hear Britney, they just hear the music because she’s never really been known as a vocalist (which she isn’t and we all know that). So hearing someone sing a Britney song, gives a somewhat cool factor. Naturally, when Tony Lucca sang “…Baby One More Time” on The Voice, I flipped out because the whole thing was just PURE GENIUS. Same song, different show – Marty Casey was absolutely brilliant with his version on Rock Star INXS back in 2005. In concert, I’ve heard Kate Voegele sing “Till the World Ends” and again, I geeked out.

Consider this me ranting about song choices on TV shows (reality or otherwise). Also, a justifiable excuse for me to post videos of some cool/awesome (and I guess one not-so-great) covers. Enjoy!