“Moves Like Jagger”, a one-off single released for The Voice, brought Maroon 5 back from the brink of irrelevance. Before then, Maroon 5 looked like they were going to be a mid-’00s burnout group doomed to appear in VH1 I Love the ’00s! specials with frontman Adam Levine earning enough Wash-Up Points already to qualify as a reality TV talent show judge. But after a wildly successful first season and single, Maroon 5 were able to work their way back into public consciousness so thoroughly that they could cheekily call their next album Overexposed.
The philosophical question that Overexposed asks is “Is it ‘selling out’ if you didn’t have much to sell in the first place?” Well, not really, but even if it isn’t selling out, there’s a clear feeling of something giving up here; guest writers and producers cowrote over half the record, while the non-Levine members only have writing contributions to the album’s back half. And while Maroon 5 had always emphasized the pop half of “pop rock”, very little of this album sounds like an actual band playing.
And even when they do, such as on first song/second single “One More Night”, they sound covered in so many studio effects that Overexposed sounds more like Teenage Dream than Hands All Over. But, to “One More Night”‘s credit, it has enough bounce and rhythm to stick around as a decent Summer Single. It’s a better sight for the radio than actual first single, “Payphone”, an awkward, graceless song made even more so by Wiz Khalifa’s guest verse. The song builds like a ballad, but never pays off like one, and instead stays mid-tempo and unsatisfying.
Some of the cowriting credits on Overexposed include Shellback, Max Martin, Benny Blanco, and Ryan Tedder, names that frequent the credits of Hot 100 hits. Their collaborations are bright and shiny and radio ready; “Daylight” and “Lucky Strike” are going to be singles, it’s just a matter of which one’s third and which is fourth. “Daylight” is an ok ballad, but could be stronger if it had more room to breath (you know, like if a band was playing it). As it is, it doesn’t swing hard enough into pure pop to be anything but a pleasant if anemic listen. Ironically enough, the raved up “Lucky Strike” is bolstered by being so thoroughly processed (it’s also the direct “Jagger” sequel present). It’s catchy as all get out, to boot, and the most sensual song you’d ever attach to Ryan Tedder’s name.
Hell, if the album kept the pop thrills going, I’d call it a success, but after “Lucky Strike”, Overexposed becomes Underplanned. After a few filler tracks, melancholy slowburner “Fortune Teller” is pretty in a kind of rote way, and only marred by a faux-dubstep breakdown (the same thing threatened to derail “Lucky Strike”). “Sad”, a piano and vocal only number, wants to be by Adele so much it’s embarrassing, and the song is painfully out of place and on the nose.
The last three songs on Overexposed do little to recover any momentum. “Tickets” and “Doin’ Dirt” try to compromise Maroon 5’s funky side with the album’s pop style, but results in sludgy disco that’s too overstuffed for its own good. “Beautiful Goodbye” ends the album on a slightly positive sounding note; the album’s pop excess is curtailed in favor of a “classic” Maroon 5 sound (if there is such a thing).
Of course, some problems dog Overexposed from top to bottom. It works in some places, like on “Lucky Strike”, but the album as a whole leans on “La la la” and “Whoa-oh-whoa-whoa” choruses and extended breaks past the point of annoyance. Levine’s voice and lyrics go unchanged for the most part; the only difference is he sings noticeably lower a few times (“Fortune Teller”), and while his lyrics aren’t regressing, 12 songs vaguely about women in rote ways gets tiring after awhile. Instead of being a synthesis of the band’s pop rock origins and the new producer’s pop influence, the two sides don’t gel together as often as they could.
Even with its numerous flaws, I’d forgive Overexposed if it was fun, but after the initial rush, that’s seldom the case. It tries doing sad for a few tracks, but even then, it finds limited success. The shortest way to describe Overexposed is that it’s a typical pop album: good for a few singles, and then blandly commercial. Two and a half out of five stars.
tl;dr: When you can’t sell out, you can always give up, 2.5/5