Maroon 5, Overexposed
They might have the moves like Jagger, but Maroon 5 lacks the grooves on their fourth album in 10 years, Overexposed. The title, a self-deprecating wink to the band’s ubiquity (and maybe frontman Adam Levine’s frequent and much-appreciated nakedness), demonstrates what happens to a band when they become as big as these boys: In pursuit of singing competitions and hot models, the music—this time with Max Martin and Ryan Tedder taking on production—falls through the cracks. “Payphone,” the fine first single, is a quick rewind—not just to when you needed a dime to make a call, but to Maroon 5’s neo-soul soft side that had gays and girls swooning. Pretty much the rest—as overproduced as it may be Overexposed—will not be loved. “One More Night” does the funky-reggae thing, masking Levine’s pained plea—an old trick the band can’t let go of (see past singles: “Misery” and “Makes Me Wonder”). Worse, even, are the words themselves: “Here I am waiting, I’ll have to leave soon” launches “Daylight”; “I know you wanna stay, but I think that you should go” is the poeticism of “Tickets”; and can we start a movement to stop the metaphorical use of “tattoo”? Please? “Sad,” despite also ignoring subtlety in lyricism, is onto something better than any of the perfunctory funk-pop: With just piano and Levine’s raw vocals, he sings his heart out…and we swoon.Grade: C
Justin Bieber, Believe
With the Biebs’ Tiger Beat days numbered, it’s time to pull a Timberlake: His third studio LP, Believe, is a post-puberty breakthrough—the kind that moved his teen-idol contemporary into manhood (and he has tattoos to prove it!). But even if Believe doesn’t eclipse Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds in innovation, or even in vocal awesomeness, it still establishes the little mister as more than a write-off. “As Long As You Love Me,” irresistibly stretching his falsetto into a stuttery riff, works his matured voice (i.e. sexed-up) into a layered house throw-down that has him asserting love’s power over money and food (he really is growing up). There’s no denying the charm of Jackson 5 throwback “Die in Your Arms,” or escaping the giddy energy that envelopes “Thought of You” (Usher comes to mind during the chorus); though spanning a gap that Bieber isn’t too eager to bridge on this hopscotching effort, both are among the finer examples of pop this year. And the bad news? His Nicki Minaj pairing on disco-spun “Beauty and a Beat”—not only one of the worst play-on-words ever but also a song that Minaj steals when she goes all cougar with “Buns out, wiener/But I gotta keep a eye out for Selener.” The title track, a swamping gospel ballad with an emotional wallop, is more his style. Makes you believe he’s got more up his sleeve.Grade: B
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ashes and Roses
Tough personal affairs—divorce, death and a serious illness of her own— are brought into the fold of the folk-country queen’s follow up to 2010’s The Age of Miracles. These woes don’t translate to her best music, again finding the singer-songwriter stuck in Starbucks mode (the throwaway duet with James Taylor among them), but there’s thoughtfulness in her everyday musings: moving out is a liberating to-do on “What to Keep and What to Throw Away,” “Another Home” finds life in death, and then there’s “New Years Day”—a fresh start. Hopefully for her music, too.