Maroon 5: Payphone (ft. Wiz Khalifa)

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Posted April 20, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in HiDef
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Maroon 5 tune feels like a return to mainstream pop, but forcefully injects unnecessary bad ass gimmicks

"Moves Like Jagger" was recorded as an afterthought. You can easily sense that since it remains the poppiest tune to come out of the gate of rock-meets-Stevie band Maroon 5. It also served as the golden opportunity to bring two The Voice judges – Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine – together in song, which helped transform the hit NBC talent show into a potential ratings’ threat at FOX’s Idol.

Now the big question floating around Maroon 5 fans remains to be ‘what’s next?’ And it’s a big question that even critics are even asking. Rumors of a Maroon 5 breakup were on the table (which might explain why keyboardist and songwriter Jesse Carmichael decided to take a brief hiatus from the group, which is still ongoing). But with the unexpected success of 2011’s "Moves Like Jagger," which soared to number one pop, ears are really curious as to what direction the band will go next. Especially knowing that "Jagger" was a bit of a shift from their beloved ‘Songs About Jane’ songcraft. Should they go for Katy Perry pop, mix their poppiness with the funk and create some ‘Sunshine Band’ magic or return back to basics?

Overexposed – the name for the band’s scheduled fourth LP, is probably the strongest documentation of where the band stands now. Now that Levine has been lifted to the status of Hollywood god and the band has mushroomed to the high rise lofts of pop stars, Maroon 5 are trying their hardest to best interpret this new wave of fame. The messy psychedelic album cover – a purpley art cover that looks more like a Funkadelic album cover in the eyes of a meth devotee – is just one of those articles of strong evidence that just may clarify the apocalyptic nature of the band’s newly acquired level of fame. Hey, they chose the cover, not me.

But the album’s lead single, "Payphone," is a cautionary step into Bruno Marsy pop and a misstep into bad-ass troublemaking. The chorus is loaded with profane bombshells – not something you want to hear on a Kidz Bop compilation. And while Maroon 5 knows the magic of a bad word ("Moves Like Jagger" shouted "shit," "Make Me Wonder" tossed the f-bomb") and may have learned a lesson or two from Cee Lo’s creamy Motown-inspired smash hit "F–k You (Forget You)," having two potty-mouth words jammed into the same chorus is a far cry from their safer numbers. At least Cee Lo’s record felt like an isolated incident sung by a bubbly kid with the occasional temper tantrum, the chorus on "Payphone" feels like the raging rebellion coming out of a troublemaking juvenile ready to bitchslap his high school girlfriend. Knowing when to use a naughty word is the key recipe to a modern pop gem and this is one of those instances that Levine and crew loses their equilibrium. "Fairy tales" and "shit" shouldn’t even be in the same sentence. It almost seems as if Levine is deliberately trying to flex his manhood when he shouldn’t, especially knowing the warm melody feels like it was cut from the leftovers of The Script’s "Breakeven (Falling to Pieces)."

Having a guest rapper on your pop song almost always constitutes in a little r&b crossover appeal — so having Wiz Khalifa on board isn’t totally eerie. Remember Levine’s been laying down his falsetto on tracks from Kanye West to Gym Class Heroes. But Khalifa’s rhymes fall apart at the seam as he tries to find his swagger amidst a fluorescent pop backdrop. And surprisingly, Khalifa only spits out one naughty word.

In the long run, "Payphone" technically isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t one of Maroon 5’s shiner moments either. Hopefully a clean Wiz-less version will help save the day.

J MATTHEW COBB


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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