Maroon 5‘s ubiquity on hit radio isn’t limited to Maroon 5 records: Spend a couple of hours on a pop station and you’ll notice how many male singers are helium-voiced Adam Levine-alikes. Having fought so hard for so long to get — and stay — where they are (the band started 20 years ago, under the name Kara’s Flowers), the group is leaving nothing to chance with its fifth studio LP. Many of the hitmakers who were onboard for 2012’s Overexposed are back (executive producer Max Martin, Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder, Shellback), and other big names make drive-bys (Dr. Luke, Stargate, Sia, Rodney Jerkins, Fun’s Nate Ruess). While such a vast number of contributors – the album credits alone are 2,273 words long – is not uncommon, V‘s list makes it easy to picture a boardroom rather than a studio. And in a first for the group, there are no writing credits from bandmembers not named Levine.
Needless to say, this isn’t the most spontaneous album, but it is an absolutely state-of-the-art pop disc with undeniable hooks and all the hallmarks of the group’s past hits: Levine’s trademark falsetto flips, his Sting-ian wordless hooks – which range from “yo-oh-oh” (“It Was Always You”) to “whoa-oh-oh” (“Leaving California”) to “yah-ah-ah” (“It Was Always You” again) to “yay-ay-ay” (“My Heart Is Open”) — and simple but deeply resonant melodies.
Many of the best songs are the least typically Maroon 5. “It Was Always You” is a softer sell than usual for the band, with a lilting melody reminiscent of alt-pop duo MS MR’s “Hurricane.” “Unkiss Me” and “Leaving California” are Diane Warren-sized ballads begging for a movie trailer to be played over. “Maps” is already a hit — and the second song of the summer, along with Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong,” to blatantly evoke The Police’s “Message in a Bottle.” “My Heart Is Open” is the promotional tie-in tearjerker, a duet with Levine’s fellow Voice coach Gwen Stefani driven by big piano chords, a heart-tugging orchestra arrangement and a hook that makes the words “Let me hear you say yeah” sound incongruously meaningful.
On that point, with all the formidable musical minds hived together on the album, one might think Levine could have employed the skills of at least one decent wordsmith, because V‘s lyrics are spectacularly insipid. “Show me yours, I’ll show you mine!” he vows on “In Your Pocket.” Metaphors miss on “Unkiss Me” (“You cannot have fire if the candle’s melted”) and “Animals” (“I’m preying on you tonight/Hunt you down, eat you alive”). And there’s this inspired couplet on “Feelings”: “If you want me, take me home and let me use you/I know he doesn’t satisfy you like I do-hoo.”
The guy’s probably just overworked — his Twitter bio is “man in a suitcase” (even that is a Police reference). No one’s expecting Leonard Cohen, but next to these sharp melodies and arrangements, the lyrics are like a pair of shabby shoes. When you’ve got an audience of millions to whom you can say virtually anything and the best you can deliver is sophomoric treacle, the one who’s really missing out is you-hoo.