I was expecting to hate 'V', the unimaginatively titled fifth album from Californian band Maroon 5. After all, they're one of the biggest bands to sell-out: they used to sound like this, but now this has become their default.
It's safe to say, then, that Maroon 5 are no longer the soulful soft-rock band they once were. But perhaps they should be applauded for their risk taking. After all, heard in its own right, 'V' is a perfectly enjoyable electro-pop album.
As the neon cover art suggests, 'V' is a more synth-heavy album than in the past. Ballad Unkiss Me, for instance, comprises twinkling synths, a rumbling bass and handclap beat. For the most part, electro-funk has become the band's standard, whether on the laidback Sugar, the almost dubstep inflected Coming Back For You, or disco track Feelings, in essence combining their old and new styles.
The Maroon 5 of old does crop up now and again. In simple terms, guitars are frequent throughout, but specifically Leaving California harks back to the likes of She Will Be Loved in its melodic construction. And on the deluxe version, singer Adam Levine does his best Paolo Nutini impression on the bluesy Sex and Candy. It sounds out of place here though - you can't have it both ways.
The electronic feel mostly stems from the incessant and perpetually grating autotune used on Levine's voice. Introduced in annoying fashion on Payphone, it continues on current single Maps and throughout 'V'. On ballad New Love it reaches a new level, from its monotonous verse melodies to its high-flying chorus. It's as if the songs are being sung by a robot, which is not only absurd but acts as a barrier to any emotional connection to the songs. Gwen Stefani, notably, is not given the same treatment when she features on My Heart Is Open. We know from the past that Levine is capable of more.
Not that these songs are particularly deep. The album comprises a series of banal love songs with shallow lyrics. The lyrical conceit of Unkiss Me is just awkward, whilst In Your Pocket revolves around the line "show me yours, I'll show you mine" - is that really a phone in your pocket? The frequent use of explicit words, meanwhile, feels forced and negates the band's mainstream status.
What elevates the music, however, is the band's ability to write a catchy riff and a nagging hook. As an album of chart-friendly, immediately appealing pop music, 'V' is perfectly perfunctory.
* Coming Back For You
Listen: 'V' is available now.