Over three albums and a decade’s time, Maroon 5 have played it loose with their true identity as a pop act. Until now, the SoCal foursome has operated under the guise of a rock outfit. But on Overexposed they’ve switched the script, going full-on, no-excuses, mainstream pop. The band’s fourth album is, quite simply, a Hot 100-aiming collection of the fizziest proportions; it’s a dance-pop honing missile aimed squarely at radio programmer’s hearts.
“Moves Like Jagger,” the group’s 2011 collaboration with Christina Aguilera — aka Levine’s nemesis on NBC’s The Voice — inspired this move; “Jagger” was the first major pop hit to emerge from the SoCal crew in years, and also marked the start of production work with Swedish pop guru Max Martin (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson), who takes the reigns on Overexposed, and brings along a gaggle of fellow pop-centered minds like OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, and (shudder) even a dude from 3OH!3.
The Overexposed experiment has mixed results: radio-ready hits (“Payphone,” featuring a let’s-see-what-happens-by-sticking-a-rapper-in-here verse from Wiz Khalifa, and the pop-punkish “Daylight”) succeed where forced attempts at dance music (“Lucky Strike,” “Love Somebody”) fail. There’s a refreshing switch on the album’s B-side that sees the band largely forgoing outside assistance and tickling its own creative fancy: On the funk-driven cut, “Ladykiller”, the piano ballad “Sad,” and album standout “Beautiful Goodbye” where Levine’s pristine voice does most of the heavy lifting and is no longer drowned in production static, the band’s Songs About Jane-era knack for melody and phrasing returns. It seems there’s a creative streak still lurking in Maroon 5′s pop-loving heart. But, truth be told, the success of Overexposed will dictate how much — if ever — it’s allowed to again peek out through the cracks.