There was a time when being labeled a “pop band” was a badge of shame. It came with the stigma of producing music churned out in response to the current trend, clinging to hopes of landing on the Top 40 chart. Even at its height, pop music could sell millions and millions of records and not get the true critical acclaim it deserved. What may sound light-hearted and catchy to you only comes from talent and toil in the studio. Yet it’s bands like Maroon 5 that make it not only look easy, which I know it isn’t, but they wear the label as a badge of honor.
They are unapologetic about their pop-ness and it’s awesome.
V is their fifth studio release (hence the Roman numeral for five) and while it may have traces of their smash debut, Songs About Jane, this new release travels through decades of musical genres in an effort to show the skill and variety this band can offer. Some may listen and only hear radio-friendly riffs and chorus lyrics dreamed up only to repeat in your head endlessly, but that is giving this album and this band way too little credit. They deliver from every angle of pop music: hip-hop, R&B, soul and the power pop sound of the ’90s boy bands. It’s a tour through audio addiction, so grab a ticket and let me walk with you.
V opens with their debut single, “Maps,” which is the most similar-sounding track to those fans jumping straight here from Songs About Jane. It gives just a glimmer of the high-pitched range lead singer Adam Levine has become so comfortable with. “Maps” also kicks off the major theme of the album, love.
Every track is basically a love song written for a particular time in a relationship – the meeting, the chase, the lust, the fall, the honeymoon, the friction, and the unacceptable loss.
“Animals” follows next, sounding like they took Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” and filtered through the modern day R&B stylings of Usher, Levine’s co-host on The Voice. It bounces with bass and is sure to feed the club goers ample audio snacks.
“It Was Always You,” “Unkiss Me,” “Leaving California,” and “My Heart Is Open” cover the softer side of the album, perfect for those folks who like to pour their heart out, likely in the shower or their car. “It Was Always You” has touches of ’80s icon Howard Jones, touching on the well-worn story of a best friend who realizes after far too long who they really should be with, while “Unkiss Me” is a more soulful rendering, tossing things back 20 years to the days of Boyz II Men serenading in the rain.
“Leaving California” reminds me a little of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” not in sound, but in content. It hits your ears like a love song, but when read, it comes off a little like a stalker ballad. Yet the band closes out their handful of soft touches with “My Heart Is Open,” winding the album once again into the monster TV franchise The Voice by adding a duet with new upcoming judge Gwen Stefani.
Looking back into the more uptempo tracks, “Sugar” is a Michael Jackson-esque dance number, full of sharp breaths and flourishes. I felt it would’ve been perfect for Jackson right around the ending of The Jackson 5. “In Your Pocket” plays on the jealousy that inevitably creeps its way into a relationship with the heat of passion and paranoia. While again, Maroon 5 does a splendid job here, this track would be a hit in the hands of anybody in the R&B/hip-hop genre on either side of the gender scale. It’s radio bait all the way.
“New Love” is a dance-pop number that would be at home with N’Sync at their peak. The beat and rhythm are so catchy and punchy, I have my fingers crossed one of the choreographers on So You Think You Can Dance will snatch this up for a routine next season.
“Coming Back for You” opens with an ’80s drum riff that is equally retro and perfect. This track is that one song every girl wants the dreamy rock star to sing about her when he’s leaving town for the next gig.
Lastly there is “Feelings,” which feels like the musical love child of Britney’s “I’m a Slave 4 U” and Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity.” Levine better learn how to do that sliding floor dance before dropping this on stage.
Maroon 5 uses V to grab music elements from every walk of pop life and stamp it as their own. They prove they can’t be pigeonholed, while simultaneously proving they don’t care what people think they should sound like. This is a much more skilled and brave unit than they were back on their debut.
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