“Going so high, we fuck the sky!” Adam Levine sings on Maroon 5’s fifth album – and he and the band make good on their promise. The 11 songs here are precision-tuned and lustrously polished, jammed with hooks and choruses that build a man cave in your brain. In terms of stylistic seamlessness and fluid forward motion, V might even be sharper than their 2012 blockbuster, Overexposed, which gave us “Payphone,” a dazzling spectacle of 21st-century Top 40 self-assurance.
Musically, Maroon 5 update turn-of-the-Eighties hit flavors for the age of Katy Perry. Levine co-wrote all the songs on V, working with just about every marquee-name radio sorcerer in the game, from Swedish dance-pop master blasters Max Martin and Shellback to “Moves Like Jagger” co-producer Benny Blanco, Nineties R&B titan Rodney Jerkins and pop starchitects like Ryan Tedder, Sia and Nate Ruess of fun. Levine’s immediately recognizable high-def tenor blends into every plush sonic setting. On the Perry-worthy “Sugar,” funk-guitar licks zip across a spry, sun-drunk groove as Levine sings, “I want that red velvet/I want that sugar sweet,” like he’s giving out design specs for the album. On “Maps,” we get “Payphone” on steroids, a surging midtempo number where Levine puts on his best Sting yelp and follows Andy Summers-like guitar splashes and pounding drums deep into the lonely night.
Throughout the early to mid-2000s, Maroon 5 were an eclectic pop-rock band with plenty of catchy tunes and not much in the way of a well-defined image. On The Voice, Levine has crafted one of music’s biggest celebrity personalities. It’s on full display on V – whether he’s the raging sex panther of “Animals” or the sly dog turning the tables on his cheating girl on “In Your Pocket.” “Don’t give up on the moment tonight/You’ll regret it the rest of your life,” he sings convincingly on “New Love,” doing all manner of vocal flips and feints as he rides a taut bass line into billows of synth steam.
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The typical knock on Maroon 5 is that all these strengths can also be seen as weaknesses – their versatility can come off a little too breezy. Levine’s voice is a powerful instrument, yet he sometimes seems like less of an emotional presence in the music than on earlier albums like the band’s 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, a collection of breakup songs. The best glimpse into his real life today comes via the Phil Collins-esque “It Was Always You,” where the recently married singer radiates happiness about finding Mrs. Right.
It’s hard to care about any shortcomings when the tunes are as masterfully crisp as they are on much of V: Check the lithe MJ-esque masterstroke, “Feelings.” They become more noticeable when it’s time for Levine to body-slam the album’s ballads. On the radiantly overblown “Leaving California” and “My Heart Is Open for You,” a piano tempest with Voice costar Gwen Stefani, his performances can start to sound onenote. Next time he moves like Jagger, Levine could use a little “Angie” to go with his “Start Me Up.” Then he could fuck the sky, and tickle the storm clouds too.