Maroon 5 ‘Hands’ Over Mediocrity

Photo Courtesy of Chris Wray-McCann

Maroon 5 is one of those bands people either love or hate. When music snobs hold up their noses about the simplicity of pop and the decline in quality of music, they point to Maroon 5. On the other hand, those looking for fun songs to dance and sing along to flock to Maroon 5’s catchy beats and sensual lyrics.

When approaching them from an objective point of view, there is nothing spectacular or groundbreaking about Maroon 5. However, they write good hooks and Adam Levine’s vocals audibly shine with the golden gloss of Mutt Lange’s production (Def Leppard and Shania Twain).

Three years after their last album, the boys are back with their most fun album yet. “Hands All Over” can more easily be compared to their last album than their massively successful debut in 2004 (“Songs About Jane” to this day is still Maroon 5 at its best), continuing to emphasize the pop half of their pop/rock formula while managing to be even bouncier and toe-tapping than last time.

This is instantly clear with the first two songs, which are also the first two singles. After even the most casual listen, these songs will have you humming to yourself as you go about your day.

The album starts off strong as the listener is greeted by an “Oh Yeah” followed by Maroon 5’s signature guitar riff as “Misery” kicks things off. That funky guitar continues into “Give a Little More,” which adds in a steady drum beat that calls to mind the dance club songs of the 90s.

After the first couple of tracks get you on your feet, “Stutter” slows things down a bit. This, along with the next track “Don’t Know Nothing,” lead into the more subdued part of the album, which is where it is the most like their second album.

However, aside from “Never Gonna Leave This Bed,” which seems to be the signature slow ballad of this album (much like how “She Will Be Loved” and “Won’t Go Home Without You” were for the past two albums), the songs stand out and show a different style than that used in “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.”

“Don’t Know Nothing” and “I Can’t Lie” have a mo-town feel to them, the most R&B of any of the songs on the album with pretty piano interludes and strung out falsetto phrases.

The title track “Hands All Over” is probably where Lange had the most input, reminding one of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” with the hardest guitar and drums in the entire album.

“How” and “Just a Feeling” are piano driven ballads, but seem almost interchangeable and don’t have the same staying power as their other ballads. However, in between them is the very catchy “Get Back in My Life,” with an “Ooooo” hook and more of the same funky guitar riffs that have become a signature of their sound.

As the album winds down, it offers the quick and flowing “Runaway,” which is over in a flash. It is very thoroughly consistent, but while pleasant to listen to, is quickly forgotten as soon as the next song, “Out of Goodbyes,” begins to play.

This is one of the album’s highlights, and the only time Maroon 5 really seems to be going out on a limb to do something new. Lady Antebellum joins this country-like duet, which calls to mind other successful pop/country fusions of the past, sounding like something from Faith Hill or Shania Twain (again, Lange’s influence is felt).

I’m not a fan of country music, but country-pop is something I like to hear every so often, and Maroon 5 pulls it off. Some may think this is a step too far for them, but Adam’s voice actually blends well with Hillary Scott’s. Even non-country fans may appreciate the tiny step in that direction. It rounds out the album with a little variety, which is not common in a Maroon 5 album.

It’s not a perfect album by any means. For one thing, the lyrics may not exactly be poetry, but they fit in the larger light and fluffy framework of the album.

I would like them to break out of the “falling in and out of love/getting hung up over a break up” theme that runs through this album (and the others as well), but I don’t think I could imagine Maroon 5 doing anything else.

They are masters of the art of writing a light and relatively simple pop song, one that entertains you while you’re listening, but other than leaving a catchy chorus in your head, doesn’t require a second look or any effort on your part to appreciate it on a deeper level.

Rating: 3 out of 5