How far can you reasonably take a formula? In considering Maroon 5's latest album, it's a fair question.
Heavily tattooed lothario (and The Voice coach-testant) Adam Levine and his bandmates have gotten more than a decade's worth of mileage out of broken hearts, bad decisions and borderline brutal relationships. Folding its comparatively pedestrian lyrics inside gleaming pop wrappers has moved millions of units, even if the band has steadily carved away the R&B influences felt on 2002's debut LP Songs About Jane. In its place, programmed beats, high-profile producers and Levine's steady ascension -- although Maroon 5 boasts men playing instruments, it's been a while since any of their albums or songs felt organically generated.
The massive success of last year's one-off single Moves Like Jagger only reinforced the group's decision to continue down its current path, which makes the aptly titled Overexposed a disappointing exercise in diminishing returns.
Despite the appeal of 2010's Hands All Over, which bridged the gap between the band's gritty, funky past and its polished present, Maroon 5's fourth studio album feels like a big step back. Working with a murderers' row of production talent, including Max Martin, Benny Blanco and Shellback, among others, Maroon 5 takes dead aim at radio, as nearly every single track here feels precision-tooled for incessant airplay.
Whether it's the irresistible single Payphone (featuring a gleefully profane -- and incongruous -- Wiz Khalifa cameo) or the lascivious Lucky Strike, Levine's soaring falsetto and ferocious sexual appetite are in full effect. He remains a stunningly gifted vocalist, even if Maroon 5 is trying its hardest to bury him beneath layers of electronic frippery.
But take a look at the credits for Overexposed and a different story emerges. Levine wrote nearly all of the record without the band, instead teaming with the various star producers. So, instead of viewing this as a group effort, perhaps it's better to think of it as a trial run for a solo career -- after all, Levine is the primary person reaping the benefits of being on a popular television show.
Maybe instead of a band running out of ways to recycle a formula, Maroon 5 will simply fall by the wayside, allowing Levine to become a full-fledged star on his own.