Call & Response: The Remix Album

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December 30, 2008|By New York Times News Service

Maroon 5

[A&M/Octone] * 1/2

Playing a scrubbed-clean mix of R&B, light funk, soft rock and power pop, the airless and exceedingly popular Maroon 5 sounds like everything, and it sounds like nothing. Adam Levine's vocals are emaciated and occasionally shrill; rarely are they effective punctuation. This is a concession-free band, not in that it stands by its principles, but in that it has none to stand by, and therefore to potentially violate.

Call & Response: The Remix Album constitutes the largest well of deep thought about this band to date: Call it "18 Ways of Looking at Maroon 5." Or more accurately, "18 Ways Maroon 5 Would Like to Be Seen." Backed by major-label clout and budget, it has assembled a broad, thoughtful and sometimes clever set of collaborators to engage in what ideally would be a sort of sanctioned disrespect: other groups dismantling the band's songs and reconstituting them with stronger parts.

Some bands have the technology. The Cool Kids' take on "Harder to Breathe" cleaves through the original with snares that land like hard slaps. And the typically jagged art-rock dissenter Deerhoof strips the pomp off "Goodnight Goodnight" to reveal a surprisingly lovely melody lurking beneath. If you listen closely, you can barely hear Maroon 5 at all.

More of this, and this album could have qualified as a successful search for identity. But too many remixers stick to the expected. DJ Quik's funk version of "Shiver" is lazy; a version of "Sunday Morning" by the Roots' Questlove sounds just like a Maroon 5 song, toothless.

Of all the attempts at keeping Maroon 5 in its milieu, Mark Ronson's is the most successful on its own terms. When Mary J. Blige guests on his pungent remake of "Wake-Up Call," she practically eradicates all traces of Levine, which was perhaps Ronson's intent.

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