Take one of today's most commercially visible pop groups, set it to work on a new album with an internationally acclaimed producer versed in everything from heavy metal to cosmopolitan country, then send the band on the road before the recording even hits stores.
That outlines the newest chapter in the pop-star saga of Maroon 5, which returns to Lexington to play Applebee's Park on Saturday.
The story picks up in the wake of the band's 2007 album, It Won't Be Soon Before Long. The recording slickly avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump" by following the multi-platinum sales of Maroon 5's debut album, 2002's Songs About Jane, with five radio hits and domestic sales that topped the 2 million mark.
So was recording a third album after two top-selling predecessors as tough as cutting a second record after an insanely popular debut?
"We were really geared up to go in the studio without all that sophomore-slump pressure," said Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine. "But, really, every time you make a record, you kind of feel like everything is on the line. You certainly don't want it to be like, 'Well, this is the record where we were no longer relevant.' So there's always that pressure there every time. And we always feel it. We'd be lying if we said we didn't."
To fortify Maroon 5's winning streak on the pop charts, the band traveled to Switzerland last year and recorded its third album with celebrated producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Among Lange's many clients and accomplishments: AC/DC (Highway to Hell and Back in Black), Def Leppard (High 'N Dry and Pyromania), Foreigner (4), The Cars (Heartbeat City), Nickelback (Dark Horse) and former wife Shania Twain (Come on Over and Up!).
"We were so intrigued to work with Mutt because he's got such a legendary reputation. In some ways, he is one of the producers that perhaps the average lay person wouldn't know by name. But within the music industry, he's tremendously well respected.
"In meeting Mutt, we found him to be such a down-to-earth guy. He was instrumental in looking at all of the material we had and weeding out the things that weren't 100 percent.
"Making pop records, after all, is not an exact science. You have to listen for all of these vibes to find out what will work or what will make people prick up their ears if they're scanning through the radio. That takes a special kind of awareness. Mutt's got a heightened sense of that awareness."
Maroon 5 is keeping much of the new album, titled Hands All Over, under wraps until its release Sept. 21 (an advance copy was not made available for listening for this story). But the record already has made itself known on radio with its first single, Misery. Despite the title, the song is as bouncy, slick and tight as any of the band's pop hits. A second single, Give a Little More, also should reach radio ahead of the album.
But the biggest surprise on Hands All Over is likely to be the final track, Out of Goodbyes. The song teams Maroon 5 with the immensely popular country-pop vocal trio Lady Antebellum.
"That one kind of came out of left field, just because we didn't really expect to write a country song," Valentine said. "That wasn't the plan at all. But the song came about pretty organically. Jesse (Carmichael, Maroon 5's keyboardist) and I were strumming guitars outside of the studio one day. We were recording over the summer, so it was beautiful outside. Jesse came up with this lick and we started developing it. Then Mutt walked by and said, 'That's great. Let's go in and record that and build something around it.'
"Adam (Levine, the band's vocalist) came into the studio later. He usually slept in. After hearing the melody, he started singing to it and we had the song. But after he wrote the lyrics, it sounded like it was calling for this call-and-answer type of thing. So we started to think about who we could have sing on it. Lady Antebellum was interested, so we sent the song to them and they put their vocals on it," he said.
"We still haven't even met them face to face. I guess that's what you call a real 21st-century collaboration."
With the album done and buzz around its release building, Maroon 5 returned to the road this summer. So far, the band is playing only three or so songs from the new album. But aside from Misery, that's music its fans have never heard. Such risk only seems to add to Maroon 5's love of performing live.
"From the first time I played in front of people — I was probably 15 at the time — I just got this indescribable buzz from being onstage that lasted for days. So we've become kind of addicted to that.
"It's just that the dosage always needs to be higher when the size of the audience gets bigger," Valentine said. "But when you think about it, that's still a pretty healthy addiction."