Maroon 5 continues their descent into full-fledged mainstream pop on their latest release, Red Pill Blues. Gone are the days of the adult-contemporary, soft rock band that once was, making way for the glossy, perfectly produced electro-pop group.
Luckily for them, their transition to being one of the most played pop bands on Top 40 radio has been relatively seamless. Helmed by falsetto-aficionado Adam Levine, Maroon 5 is a pop powerhouse that continues to produce solid, catchy songs with each new release.
Red Pill Blues, the group’s sixth album, comes after their 2014 release, V, which contained the wildly popular singles “Sugar,” “Maps” and “Animals.” The new album is very much in the same lane as V, but plays to more current trends, something the band has done with each consecutive album.
The lead singles, “Cold” (feat. Future), “What Lovers Do” (feat. SZA), and “Don’t Wanna Know” (feat. Kendrick Lamar) have all been instant radio hits. The commonality among the three, however, is obvious. They all feature popular R&B/rap artists, and all have the same tightly produced, sharply electronic based sound, that’s held together by Levine’s clean vocals, repetitive lyrics, and beats that are hard to forget.
Besides the singles, which are lacking in diversity sound wise, the rest of the album isn’t as cohesive as the band’s previous albums have been. The track listing is just right, coming in at ten songs, but starts dragging if you’re listening to the deluxe version, which consists of fifteen tracks, two of which are the aforementioned radio singles “Cold” and “Don’t Wanna Know.” It’s bizarre to include main singles as deluxe tracks only, but if they are trying to boost deluxe version album sales, that may be the reason. The other deluxe tracks, “Denim Jacket” and “Plastic Rose” are mostly forgettable write-offs, except for the stand out “Visions,” which has a groovy, low-key reggae vibe.
There are some great features spread throughout the album, including Julia Michaels, A$AP Rocky, LunchMoney Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, and Future. All of them add something to the tracks they appear on, and none feel like they take away from Levine’s parts or the overall sound. The only one that feels a bit unnecessary is R&B singer SZA on the track “What Lovers Do.” Her vocals sound fine and blend with Levine’s, but after their performance of it on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon recently, her presence felt slightly boring and her part seemed like it was decided last minute just to have another feature.
LunchMoney Lewis’s feature on “Who I Am” is a stellar contribution to this unique song. It is one of the strongest on the record, and is a step outside of Maroon 5’s usual sound. “Whiskey,” one of the only slower songs, is another highlight. Levine consistently shines on slow-burning tracks like this one where he can be more vulnerable and toss aside the perfect, upbeat choruses even if it’s just for a few minutes. The song recalls another excellent ballad, “Sad,” from the band’s 2012 album, Overexposed. “Whiskey” instantly envelops the listener with its simple melody and Levine’s pure vocal delivery.
By far the most surprising song on the entire project is “Lips on You,” an unusual pop song that is not in line with the other high energy pop songs. It’s moodier and more drawn out, providing a darker, sexier sound that suits the band well. “Help Me Out” (feat. Julia Michaels) is a quirky, cool song that, while maintaining Maroon 5’s glossy pop aesthetic, sees Levine letting go with his vocals more than he usually does. The way he and Michaels sing together allows him to be more free and open, and the resulting song is a fun and easy listening track that could easily make for a radio hit.
Red Pill Blues is an odd release, but it’s not a bad album, nor is it excellent, or their best. That being said, it’s a cool, well-produced pop record that has enough decent content to not be completely forgotten. The unfortunate side of this album is that there is too much filler, and the structure of the track listing is very odd. Hopefully, they can pull at least one more single from this project to keep it relevant for a little while longer.
Grade: B +
“Whiskey (feat. A$AP Rocky)”
“Help Me Out (feat. Julia Michaels)”
“Lips on You”
Side Note: It is worth mentioning that this year is the tenth anniversary of Maroon 5’s 2007 album, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. This is my personal favourite. It’s as close as they have come to pop perfection. The album is almost as solid and cohesive as you can get, with each song bringing something memorable, catchy, and diverse to the table. Dare I say, this is one of the best pop albums of the early/mid 2000s. If you haven’t taken a listen to the album recently or have never heard it, I highly recommend doing so. Maroon 5 peaked with It Won’t Be Soon Before Long (though they came close with their album V), so it’s hard to say if they will ever make something as good again.