There’s a universal irony that, sometimes, a surefire formula for crafting a hit project inexplicably yields lesser rewards. Maroon 5’s collaboration with veteran rock producer Robert “Mutt” Lange should have seen the group’s third album, Hands All Over, become an instant hit. It ultimately took time, but a masterstroke duet would reward the group with its most famous work to date – and a fresh, powerful springboard for the future.
With the relentless touring schedule for It Won’t Be Soon Before Long finally winding down in 2009, thoughts turned to writing for the next album. Adam Levine was perhaps preparing for the fact that this next work might end up as Maroon 5’s swansong, famously telling Rolling Stone magazine two years earlier that he thought the team might have one final album to go before the inevitable pull of solo projects got too strong.
Lange, of course, has worked with everyone from Def Leppard to Britney Spears, and is most celebrated for masterminding his former wife Shania Twain’s record-shattering career. Intrigued by his interest in producing the band, Maroon 5 relocated to Lange’s base, in Switzerland, for two months, but any thoughts that this would be a case of letting the veteran carry the weight of shaping the record were swiftly dispelled. Levine’s collection of songs was stripped apart and rebuilt, with Lange pushing hard for the hooks and high-fidelity impact for which he is famous. As two strong songwriters sized each other up across the studio, the friendly but pressured atmosphere pushed both men hard. If at times it might have felt a touch challenging, it was all to the good of the record that was being created.
What emerged, on 15 September 2010, was Maroon 5’s catchiest pop collection to date. The strident funk and rock hybrid tone of the previous album – already an evolution from the band’s rockier debut – had been freshly illuminated by a high-energy pop sheen that drew references from Lange’s 80s and 90s heyday, while remaining sharp and contemporary.
The album’s first single was ‘Misery’, a collaboration between Levine, guitarist Jesse Carmichael and long-time collaborator Sam Farrar, who was now increasingly working with the band. Hitting radio in June 2010, in advance of Hands All Over’s release, the track received a critical thumbs-up and, alongside a video featuring another one of Maroon 5’s provocative but tongue-in-cheek storylines, started its ascent up the charts. Its subsequent, inexplicable stalling outside the US Top 10 (at No.14) and a peak of No.30 in the UK seemed at odds with the song’s obvious commercial direction. A later nomination at the following year’s Grammys for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With A Vocal would give the song the credit it deserved, but it set the Hands All Over campaign off on a shakier footing than had been expected.
However, reviews for the album were generally stronger than those that had initially greeted It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. It was as if the critics were finally warming up to Maroon 5’s potent songwriting power. The light funk shuffler ‘Give A Little More’ was chosen as the set’s next single, and the stripped-back performance video appeared to suggest a simpler, back-to-basics approach. Yet, when Hands All Over hit the shops, it peaked at No.2 in the charts, trailing the chart-topping success of its predecessor.
None of this seemed right – Hands All Over was arguably the band’s strongest album to date, with an impressive range of material. ‘How’, for example, is one of the best ballads the band has ever recorded, with flavours of AOR giants Toto permeating its persuasive melody. ‘I Can’t Lie’ can pass as something from the genius songbook of Billy Joel, while ‘Don’t Know Nothing’’s new wave influences lends the track a dramatic gravitas that delivers with a hook-heavy chorus. And there was a well-positioned duet with country superstars Lady Antebellum: ‘Out Of Goodbyes’.
Elsewhere, ‘Never Gonna Leave This Bed’ enjoyed a decent airing when it was picked as the album’s third single, securing strong support from adult-contemporary radio. The rockier title track, meanwhile, was chosen as a fourth single in some markets, but by now the band had turned its attention to writing a juggernaut song that would become their signature hit.
That masterstroke was to be the floor-filling classic, ‘Moves Like Jagger’. Super-producers Johan Schuster (Shellback) and Benjamin Levin worked with Levine on a treatment that was something of a gamble for the band, who had never tried anything so obviously all-out pop. But bold actions sometimes conjure magic, and the decision to record the song with Levine’s fellow judge on the US reality show The Voice was nothing short of inspired. The chemistry between Levine and Christina Aguilera had already played out obviously on screen and added a teasing narrative to a strong song. Aguilera’s own musical career had proved erratic since her breakthrough with ‘Genie In A Bottle’, in 1999, and her recent album, Bionic, had underperformed, so the collaboration marked a timely opportunity for both parties to give their chart credentials a welcome boost.
‘Moves Like Jagger’ proved to be a runaway smash – the sort of record that most artists only taste once in their careers. On its 21 June 2011 release, it tore into the US Billboard Hot 100 at No.8 and reached No.1 that September on the back of striking radio airplay. It was a similar story across the globe: the song spent 10 phenomenal weeks at the top of the Australian charts and a staggering seven weeks at No.2 in the UK, becoming the second-best-seller of the year and massively outperforming many singles that had actually reached the top spot.
Certainly, the Jonas Åkerlund video helped fuel ‘Move Live Jagger’’s enormous success. Enveloping the sexy, playful tone of the track, it was a homage to rock god Mick Jagger that managed to be reverential and yet super-cheeky at the same time. And the Rolling Stone’s reaction? “It’s very flattering,” he told ABC Television soon after.
Supported by further additional tracks in different markets on a reissue programme – including a nicely judged cover of Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ – Hands All Over’s sales took a boost, eventually winning Platinum awards in most of the major markets, including the US and the UK. Another lengthy and successful worldwide tour also helped, with a string of dates supporting the buzz, including a slot at the legendary Rock In Rio festival.
With its distinctive cover featuring a self-portrait of the then 19-year-old photographer Rosie Hardy, Hands All Over today stands as a solid collection of songs as strong as any that the band had released before, bolstered by a shrewd, sharp readjustment that restored their chart credibility – and then some.
Alongside his growing TV career, Levine was demonstrating he knew how to maintain Maroon 5’s profile at a steady pitch, and, importantly, showcased a steely understanding of how to sharpen things up if required. The public had proved a step out of time with the group at Hands All Over’s birth, but the quality of the songs ultimately cut through and the band’s growing reputation as lively and reliable showmen was as sound as ever. Levine’s premonition that the album may be the band’s last proved to be very wide of the mark. In fact, things were just getting interesting…