On TV, Adam Levine can be funny, spontaneous, unafraid to come across as the irritating truth-teller, full of feisty repartee with bro-rival Blake Shelton. As the frontman for Maroon 5, the L.A. band best known for smash earworms from "This Love" to "Moves Like Jagger" to "Payphone," Levine is the falsetto-bot who submits to a hitmaking formula that is getting more rigid with every album. It can be a fantastic formula -- "Feelings" begins with '70s wah-wah guitar and a Levine whoop, kicking off a lust anthem that misses the cut for summer single.
Early on, Maroon 5 was a collaboration, drawing power from the partnership between Levine, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael and guitarist James Valentine; today it's Levine, those guys and superhot producers, including Shellback and Benny Blanco, churning out not rock-band chemistry but big electro-beats and odd vocal affectations. Levine's Rihanna-style "yehs" on "Animals" aren't the most annoying part of the song -- "baby I'm preying on you tonight/hunt you down, eat you alive," goes the chorus, appending a creepy "maybe you think that you can hide."
Sometimes, he falls back on his voice -- his aahs and oohs and a gospel break are the only interesting bits about nondescript summer hit "Maps." But he reaches an extra gear on "It Was Always You," which is like Seal's "Crazy" with bonus unhinged desperation. When Levine accesses that kind of feeling, it doesn't matter whether his band is Maroon 5 or Up With People.
BOTTOM LINE Another formulaic Maroon 5 album, but don't ignore the exciting bits.
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