Maroon 5 were at a crossroads as the overwhelming success of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ began to ebb away at the end of 2011: they could follow the direction that the crossover smash had seemingly mapped out, or forge a more maverick path. That the band chose the former approach was by no means guaranteed, with Maroon 5’s members impatient to get back to the recording studio as soon as possible. There were songs left over from previous sessions and the five-piece had been writing a lot during breaks on a gruelling world tour to promote 2010’s Hands All Over, laying the groundwork for their fourth album, Overexposed.
The decision to work with songwriters Benny Blanco and Shellback on ‘Moves Like Jagger’, and that song’s huge success seemed to suggest that complementing the band’s raw material with outside collaborators was a strategy that could pay major dividends. Max Martin, famous for his work with Britney Spears, was drafted in to contribute to the new work, while Blanco was also called back, along with Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic, to amplify the new album’s hit potential. This time, it seemed that Maroon 5 wanted to fully embrace the more contemporary dance and pop influences that had frequently edged their way into the group’s songs.
With sessions for Overexposed starting in Los Angeles in the spring of 2012, it wasn’t long before the world was being teased with clips of the band working in the studio. But if the intention was to build the wait into a prolonged tease, the delay wasn’t all that tortuous. April saw the release of ‘Payphone’, a collaboration with rapper Wiz Khalifa, as the first single. It was a smoother progression of the band’s funk-infused sound, with its hook-laden melody bathed in a commercial sheen that exploded across pop radio. ‘Payphone’ raced up the international charts, hitting No.2 in the US and reaching the top spot in the UK. By year’s end it would have sold more than nine million copies worldwide, and the song’s standout, big-budget, high-drama promo clip is widely regarded as one of the best from an already very strong back catalogue.
‘Payphone’ was a fantastic launch pad for Overexposed, which hit stores on 20 June 2012, just as ‘One More Night’ started to do serious business as the set’s second single. The reggae-tinged track would go one better than its predecessor stateside, heading the Billboard listings for a phenomenal nine consecutive weeks and becoming the band’s third chart-topper in their home country after It Won’t Be Soon Before Long’s ‘Makes Me Wonder’ and, of course, ‘Moves Like Jagger’. Internationally, ‘One More Night’ would do almost as well, topping charts in territories such as New Zealand and making the Top 10 almost everywhere else. Some might argue that its greatest triumph was to block South Korean Psy from topping the US charts with ‘Gangnam Style’; chart historians have much to be thankful for…
Critics, however, were predictably puzzled by Overexposed, which was recorded without keyboardist and guitarist Jesse Carmichael, who had taken a personal break. On the one hand, there was appreciation for the band’s proven ability to craft a hit, but there was also suspicion around their decision to draft in big-name contemporary pop producers to steer the new record. Regardless, the relentless success of the singles that emerged as the months went by simply proved one thing: Overexposed was really cutting through. It made Maroon 5 vigorously fresh and contemporary again – a challenge given the rapid recycling nature of the music scene and the eight years that had passed since their first hit. The band knew that reinvention was crucial if the public were to remain engaged.
This time, then, Levine adopted a sharper and perhaps more teasing vocal style that allowed the hooks across the album’s 12 tracks to really hit home, while the canny stacking of a pair of pop bangers up front on the collection was wisely selected to tempt CD buyers. Greater inspection of the album’s genesis also revealed a more diverse set of collaborators than most had imagined. Max Martin was only fully credited on two of the final tracks, and the cuts used to promote the album were drawn from a range of writers. Choppy guitars and the band’s trademark tight percussion underpinned the fluttering synths and persuasive keyboards to successfully navigate the bridge between out-and-out pop and the band’s rock, soul and funk influences. But there was a knowing experimentation about the record too, with the electro-pop ‘Doin’ Dirt’ among the band’s most progressive songs.
Picking singles required a more conservative approach. The Max Martin-helmed ‘Daylight’ was chosen as the set’s third single, and with it came a couple of different videos, plus a Grammys performance (in a mash-up with Alicia Keys) that helped take the song into the US Top 10. Overexposed itself peaked at No.2 in both the UK and the US, and by Christmas the album had sold almost a million copies in the US alone, along with doing fantastic business around the globe.
With Carmichael on a break, PJ Morton, who had worked with Maroon 5 on previous tours, and played keyboards and synths on Overexposed, was brought in for the inevitable world tour, which kicked off in South America. The band was also joined by guitarist Sam Farrar for the jaunt. The new line-up meshed seamlessly, swiftly building on Maroon 5’s already outstanding live reputation. As tour dates continued, it was announced that the band would be on an extended US tour towards the end of 2013. Kelly Clarkson joined the tour.
After having asked fans to contribute to one of the videos produced for ‘Daylight’, a more experimental approach was chosen for ‘Love Somebody’, Overexposed’s final single release. The dance-pop hybrid had been co-written with Ryan Tedder, and the video, avoiding the dramatic high-concept approach of some previous clips, was a lush and distinctive performance piece that was lapped up by the music channels, pushing the song into the US Top 10 – the first time a Maroon 5 album had delivered four tracks that hit the highest tier of the Billboard listings.
Despite the album’s title, “Overexposed” was an accusation that simply couldn’t be levelled at Maroon 5. The public couldn’t get enough of the group and, following the juggernaut success of ‘Moves Like Jagger’, the band’s fourth collection proved they could deliver another out-of-the-park smash seemingly without breaking a sweat. That was, of course, to underplay their determined focus on crafting songs that could stay the course, and their fierce drive to maintain the success they had built. If wider collaboration was what it took to move Maroon 5 up to the next level, then they were prepared to play that hand.
Of course, things wouldn’t continue that way. The next album would see a rethink as radical as anything that had gone before…
Click here for 20 things you didn’t know about Overexposed.
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