If Overexposed had been partly shaped to consolidate the huge success of ‘Moves Like Jagger’, Maroon 5’s next studio album – their fifth, simply titled V – had a rather different brief. With the band’s confidence at a new high, this was the time to reintroduce elements of the sound that had made Maroon 5 successful in the first place.
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Though still open to collaboration and following the pop direction that had yielded such success (Sia and Gwen Stefani would feature on the record), V marked something of a return to a rockier vibe, as guitarist James Valentine was keen to make clear when he spoke to MTV in late 2013. “It definitely has gone maybe a little darker in its sound, maybe back a little bit more to what we kind of did on our debut,” he said.
What emerged wasn’t perhaps quite as pronounced as that, but V was infused with a renewed experimentation. Another move towards earlier dynamics was the welcome return of rhythm guitarist Jesse Carmichael, who had sat out the past two years to concentrate on his own material. The results would mark a significant change for the band, who, a decade after first breaking through, were now established industry veterans. Strong chart placings had become the norm for Maroon 5 and, following its release, on 29 August 2014, V emerged confidently atop the Billboard charts.
The album’s recording sessions had taken slightly longer than usual, spread across a year as band members juggled promotional commitments, touring dates and other work. The V campaign had begun that June, with the release of ‘Maps’. With its striking and controversial video, the song wrapped an insistent pop melody in a decidedly stark narrative that played to the more adult themes that appeared on the band’s debut, Songs About Jane. ‘Maps’ made a respectable No.6 in the US and an impressive No.2 in the UK.
‘Animals’, released at the same time as its parent album, did even better, making No.3 in the US and doing great business globally. Written with pop hitmakers Benny Blanco and Shellback, Adam Levine’s composition was another solid song that carried with it another controversial video treatment. In part set in a slaughterhouse, the ‘Animals’ promo clip made for unsettling viewing and, thanks to its striking imagery, received a daytime ban on some stations. But the fuss couldn’t slow such a strong song for long.
‘Sugar’, picked as the third single from V, actually outperformed both of its predecessors. This Mike Posner co-write found Maroon 5 at their most melodic, with a super-smart video treatment that saw the band making surprise appearances at a series of weddings. Allegedly inspired by the film Wedding Crashers, the promo has become one of YouTube’s most watched videos ever, with billions of views and counting. Its charming simplicity fitted the vibe of the upbeat pop number perfectly and helped the song power all the way to No.2 in the US, with a lengthy run inside the Top 10. An ensuing Grammy nomination helped shift further copies of the album well into the new year and beyond.
In an era dominated by fads and solo acts, this level of sustained success was almost unheard of by a group. The new year would also see the band embark on their Maroon V Tour (aka #M5OnTheRoad), another huge triumph marked by Maroon 5’s determination to create mature, accessible material that not only sounded fantastic on radio, but which worked live as well.
After releasing three stellar-performing album cuts as singles, issuing a brand new song was a brave and surprising choice – not least because ‘This Summer’ also came with a family-unfriendly tagline (its full title: ‘This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like A MotherF__ker’). Later added to the reissue of V, the song’s heavy use of synths offered stark contrast to the lighter vibe of ‘Sugar’, further demonstrating the versatility of the band. ‘It Was Also You’, picked as a soft promotional single in 2014, had played to the band’s instinctive dance sensibilities, while ‘Leaving California’ was an MOR-tinged midtempo ballad that could easily have been a showstopper for a high-profile diva such as Céline Dion or Mariah Carey. Perhaps surprisingly, the dramatic collaboration with Gwen Stefani, ‘My Heart Is Open’, wasn’t widely promoted, but, also notable for being a co-write with Sia, the song stands as one of V’s triumphs.
Another jittery dance number, ‘Feelings’, concluded V’s singles chronology. Released more than a year after the album’s debut, it made the ‘Bubbling Under’ list of the Billboard Hot 100, proving that the album had longevity well beyond the initial launch.
With its distinctive cover photograph, taken by South Korean photographer Lee Jung, V stands as perhaps Maroon 5’s most rounded and confident record. Leaving the question of how to better the mega-hit ‘Moves Like Jagger’ behind, the band dug deep into their own mythology, mixing that familiar, potent cocktail of contemporary sounds and razor-sharp melodies, underpinned by a credible rock pedigree that added ballast to the sugar rush. At the close of the campaign for V, Maroon 5 were looking ahead to their first greatest-hits compilation – Singles – consolidating their position as the most successful dance-pop-rock hybrid of the decade.
Five albums in, Maroon 5 seemed resiliently focused on delivering what worked for them. Few acts got this far into their career without a misstep or two, but it was genuinely hard to identify any across Maroon 5’s CV. V stands as the album that most neatly defines what makes the band special. The confident melodies and the slick, contemporary production offset the band’s determination to flirt with controversial imagery and their reluctance to play to the obvious. With ‘Sugar’ they proved they could pull a candy-coated hit from the bag with consummate ease, but they weren’t always going to offer that as the first course. They wanted us to work up a bit of an appetite first…
Looking for more? Discover 20 things you didn’t know about V.
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