paint-by-numbers pop that occasionally wows

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Even in the days of their 2002 debut ‘Songs About Jane’, Maroon 5 were an indie-pop band who skewed heavily towards the latter genre, and so it’s no surprise that, eventually, they would morph into one of chart pop’s most dependable outfits. After teaming up with Christina Aguilera for their slightly nonsensical whistle-banger ‘Moves Like Jagger’, the reinvention felt complete – by 2019, they were cramming their hits into a slightly frantic halftime show at the Super Bowl.

On the deluxe version of their previous album ‘Red Pill Blues’ alone, Maroon 5 linked up with Kendrick Lamar, Future, SZA, ASAP Rocky, and Julia Michaels – and Cardi B even hopped on a bonus version of ‘Girls Like You’. In the process, the band’s voice often felt lost, Adam Levine’s pleasantly sanitised vocal the only real distinguishing factor.

With their seventh studio album, Maroon 5 are more visible and, at times, vulnerable – ‘Jordi’ is named after Levine’s childhood friend Jordan Feldstein, who later became the band’s manager and died in 2017. ‘Echo’ (also featuring emo-rapper Blackbear) seems to be written for Feldstein. “You left a space in me,” Levine sings in falsetto, backed by a crisp beat and vocal echoes that build into a hook before falling away; Blackbear’s verse speaks of filling the void of grief with binge shopping and impulse holidays.

Lining up two versions of the track ‘Memories’ in quick succession feels like a strange sequencing decision  – they might’ve had more impact as first and last tracks bringing ‘Jordi’ full circle – but still: it’s evident what Maroon 5 are going for with this dual moment of reflection. Softly-picked guitar and the muffled roar of an applauding crowd meet Levine’s musings on loss. “Toast to the ones here today, toast to the ones that we lost on the way,” he sings with warmth. The latter version of ‘Memories’ also features two late rappers, Nipsey Hussle and YG. Crucially, these are sharp pop songs with both substance and heart.

The same cannot be said of ‘Remedy’, which features both Stevie Nicks and a near limitless supply of lyrical clichés, veering from love tearing us apart to “living young and dying fast”. Nicks’ over-produced vocal rips out the expressive quality of her voice entirely, and instead leaves her sounding like a corrupted Siri singing country-western. The spiky picked guitars – borrowed from the playbook of Fleetwood Mac – are doused in soulless antiseptic gel, and the chorus descends into meaningless word-bingo nonsense. “Walking in the sun, a sun kissed face / Candles in the sun, I’m breaking down”. It sounds like they could do with wearing some sun-cream.

On ‘Lifestyle’, Jason Derulo pops his head into proceedings to win over a woman who’s shining bright just like Rihanna-na” and harbours a thirst for diamonds and dollar bills. It’s a silly if slightly overdone song about a familiar money-grabber narrative:would you stay if I’m broke?” it wonders aloud. And the late rapper Juice WRLD’s posthumous turn on ‘Can’t Leave You Alone’ serves little purpose, a verse of his wedged into the middle of an otherwise unremarkable break-up song.

Often ‘Jordi’ ends up sounding like the confusing city centre all-you-can-eat buffets that attempt to serve up nearly every kind of cuisine imaginable. Not even an eclectic spread of guests – including Puerto Rican rapper Anuel AA, Zimbabwean artist Bantu and rapper of the moment Megan Thee Stallion – can distract from the fact that ‘Jordi’ tries its hand at nearly every strand of contemporary pop – from the smooth, Drake-style ‘One Light’ to ‘Lost’s attempt at Billie Eilish eeriness – and excels at very little.

Ironically ‘Jordi’s stand out songs are the ones lacking almost entirely in guest star pull – instead, in these moments, they fuse ambitious, wide-screen arena-pop with messier, more complicated subject matter and Adam Levine’s feelings and experiences over the last three years. It’s here that Maroon 5 break free of paint-by-numbers pop, and unearth introspective clarity instead.

Release date: June 11

Release label: 222 / Interscope




NME

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