The guys of Maroon 5 have the art of making pop records down pat. They’ve been sneaking into ear canals and embedding seemingly irremovable songs in four minutes flat for more than a decade. And lately, they’ve been doing it spite of lead singer Adam Levine, who’s wrestled with an unsavory image for a while now (for the record, he gets why you may think he is a douchebag, but is, in fact, not one).
They’ve also been accused of leaving behind their brand of honeyed California coastal soul (see “Sunday Morning”) in favor of full-on pop jams (“Payphone”). Sure, a great deal of their success can be credited to going that route. However, a close listen to fifth album V reveals that their foundation has not been removed. Levine’s hummingbird vocals and passionate delivery are as earnest as they were on their 2002 debut Songs About Jane.
Since then, they’ve buddied up with big-name producers — Benny Blanco, Shellback and Ryan Tedder all assisted on V. Levine’s also become a master at stretching and twisting words, like he did with that final “moves” in the “Moves Like Jagger” chorus. Such additions put V in the fast lane to chart-topping victory: after all, lead single “Maps” peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100, and follow-up “Animals” is creeping up the chart now.
V is a tight relationship album, clocking in just shy of 41 minutes. Capturing, losing, and demanding love is the set’s focus. To find out what songs Billboard fell hardest for, check out our track-by-track review of the new album.
The album begins with V‘s lead single “Maps,” where Levine appears to have lost his way (and his girl) during a rough patch while on the path to togetherness. The cut starts off with simple guitar licks and Levine longing for the old days with her: “I miss the conversation,” he laments at the top. But “Maps” ramps up by the time the hook comes in. The sugary inflection Levine puts on the word “you” (sounds like “yew!”) is almost nauseatingly sweet, but that’s the type of icing that makes a pop record pop.
The album’s tone takes a 180 on song two, with Levine going from wound-licker to predator. A punching bass line thumps through the “Animals” verses as he sings to a lover attempting to escape from his claws. “Don’t deny the animal that comes alive when I’m inside you,” Adam sings crudely. Produced by Shellback, “Animals” is the second single from the album, and sounds slick enough to trump the success of the first.
3. “It Was Always You”
This Monsters & Strangerz-produced track is a departure from the band’s usual sound, featuring more of an electro/disco vibe comparable to the likes of Daft Punk. Lyrically Levine realizes that, blind to the fact that his dream girl has been in front of him forever, he’s ready to move the lady out of the friend zone and into love land. “Now I know why my heart wasn’t satisfied,” he sings.
4. “Unkiss Me”
If this soulful mid-tempo breakup cut doesn’t become a single, it will be one of gems V-buyers will enjoy unearthing. “Unkiss me/ Untouch me/ Untake this heart,” Levine pleads to an ex that’s he’s clearly still attached to. Their flame has burned out, but he’s still searing.
Ammo crafted this one, and the “Sugar” production is practically begging DJs to mix it with Katy Perry’s Dr. Luke and Max Martin-made “Birthday.” “I just wanna be there where you are/And I gotta get one little taste,” Levine sings to his sweetheart.
6. “Leaving California”
A few beats faster than a ballad, “Leaving California” finds Levine on the wrong end of a breakup and his girl is headed to the east coast. “Stay with me tonight/ I won’t let go/ I won’t let go,” he promises — adding “oh-oh-oh-oh” to that final “go” and making the song feel anthemic in a fun./Nate Ruess (credited as a writer here) kind of way.
7. “In Your Pocket”
Plinking strings open “In Your Pocket” and pepper the heavy-anxiety track, which finds Levine demanding that his girl shows him the cell phone in her pocket and presumably the call log and texts that will reveal she’s been cheating on him. “It should be really easy if you have nothing to hide,” he eggs.
8. “New Love”
Levine pitches an insurance plan of sorts to his lover, promising that if he screws up along the way, their makeup will result in a greater love. “If I ever let you down/ Forgive me, forgive me/ Would it kill you to forgive me?” he wonders aloud as synths shoot all over the Ryan Tedder-produced track.
9. “Coming Back For You”
Levine attempts to quell the worries of an antsy girlfriend that’s been away from her man for way too long here. “I’ll be back for you/ So you better wait up/ Keep the bed warm for me,” he encourages.
The competitive spirit here is almost as strong as the Jamiroquai-like dance vibes on “Feelings.” Levine gives into his emotions and dismisses anyone that’s going after the girl he wants. “Does he know that there’s nobody quite like you?” he asks. “Let me tell you all the things he never told you.”
11. “My Heart is Open” feat. Gwen Stefani
The album wraps with a piano-led ballad featuring Gwen Stefani, who duets with her “The Voice” co-coach Adam Levine here. The pair’s vocals often glide over each other’s, never colliding. They play a couple here, one that doesn’t “need time to find another love,” as Stefani coos.