It wasn't noted much at the time, but founding keyboardist Jesse Carmichael sat out Maroon 5's 2012 album Overexposed -- a circumstance that just happened to coincide with Adam Levine capitalizing on his Voice-fueled stardom. Overexposed and over-filled with guest producers and songwriters drafted to compensate for the absent Carmichael, rapper Wiz Khalifa, reliable Swedish hitmakers Max Martin & Shellback, and icy OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder gave the group a steely sleekness to suit contemporary charts. Some of this is retained on V, the 2014 record that marks Carmichael's return to the group, partially because all those guests save Khalifa return for a second helping. The absence of the rapper suggests Maroon 5 aren't quite as concerned with sounding youthful as they were last time around, which is generally true. Some tracks maintain the glossy veneer that overwhelmed Overexposed -- not entirely a surprise with Martin billed as the record's executive producer -- and, despite some unnecessary vocal processing on Levine scattered throughout the record, these are largely the ones featuring returning guests: Tedder co-writes and co-produces the album's lead single, "Maps," a song where Levine's Sting mannerisms steamroll the hooks," while Shellback helms "Animals," "In Your Pocket," and "Feelings," with all but the last placing emphasis on brittle beats. Elsewhere, the vibe shifts slightly back to the soulful pop that's remained at Maroon 5's core since the beginning, here given an ever so slight maturation to balance the modern moves heard on the rest of the record. Sometimes, the group achieves a delicate balance between the two extremes -- "It Was Always You," "New Love," and the aforementioned "Feelings" -- but the best moments on V are when Maroon 5 embrace the tuneful, slightly soulful adult contemporary pop band they've always been, as they do on "Sugar," "Coming Back for You," and the Gwen Stefani duet "My Heart Is Open."
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine