When Maroon 5 debuted ‘Songs About Jane’ in 2002, their success became immediately clear. They offered an original alternative to the homogenized music industry, and they looked the part. Fronted by Adam Levine, the album reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200, with five charting singles and 5 million records sold to date. The album was exclusively penned by keyboardist Jesse Carmichael and Adam Levine. Their sophomore release, ‘It Won’t Be Soon Before Long,’ also had mainstream success, with a chart-topping single and record-setting iTunes sales. The record was also exclusively penned by its band members, including Adam Levine, Jesse Carmichael, and lead guitarist James Valentine. Everything changed on their third release, with the less than successful, ‘Hands All Over.’
Produced by the legendary Mutt Lange and penned primarily by its members, ‘Hands All Over’ failed to gain traction, and Levine himself expressed his disappointment, saying “It’s falling short in some ways, but you have to face that. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. But it’s doing well at the same time. When you become accustomed to a certain level of success, anything less becomes unsatisfying.” The failure changed their focus, and their follow-up album, ‘Overexposed,’ represented a dramatic shift for the band. The title itself puns Levine’s stand-alone status, given his stint on NBC’s ‘The Voice.’ The pop-driven record is packed with a plethora high-powered producers, including Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Shellback, and Benny Blanco. It’s also met with a shocking amount of songwriters, with James Valentine’s paltry four credits marking his first back-seat in the penning process. Levine’s plan worked. The album debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200.
Despite the success of Maroon 5′s noteworthy new direction, loyal fans are less than pleased. The band is aware of the criticism, with James Valentine saying, “A lot of our fans would love to hear us make another ‘Songs About Jane’ type of record, and I think as some point we’ll go back in and make a record in that sort of way, but [our upcoming release] is not that type of record.” That fifth release, ‘V’ also attracted high-powered songwriters and producers, including Ryan Tedder, Sia, Benny Blanco, Max Martin, and more. The record welcomes the return of founding member Jesse Carmichael, who sat out for ‘Overexposed.’
The trajectory of Maroon 5 sparks a larger debate, with answers only my readers can decide. When a band brings on so many of today’s most talked-about songwriters to help with their record, are they really a band, or are they simply a group of pop-tarts who can play the music written by others? Plus, isn’t the industry homogenized enough without recycling the air from a very small sphere? Sure I listen to ‘Overexposed’ on repeat, but did Maroon 5 sell their soul for their success?
Listen to “Maps,” the first single off their new record, ‘V.’