Album review: Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues

With a title that has already sparked controversy online, will Maroon 5’s latest album Red Pill Blues make the headlines for the right reasons too?

The “red pill” aspect of the title may have been lifted from The Matrix films, but the band received an online backlash after announcing it, as it is apparently a phrase used in far right wing political circles. Not exactly the best start for a squeaky clean, soft-rock-pop band. Not only have they picked a strange title, but their collaboration choices are also not what you may expect. Their 6th album features three of the world’s hottest American rappers, including Kendrick Lamar, Future and A$AP Rocky.

Adam Levine and co. appear to rebrand themselves every few years to keep up, but the band are often forgotten about. The full band surprisingly includes Jesse Carmichael (rhythm guitar), Mickey Madden (bass), James Valentine (lead guitar), plus Sam Farrar and PJ Morton (keyboards). Some of their biggest hits have been more about Adam’s voice, but on something like 2010’s “Moves Like Jagger”  (which sounds as if it was produced purely from a computer instruments), you may struggle to understand why there is even a full band to begin with.

Their steady output has always been fairly ordinary, but pleasing nonetheless. As soft-rock-pop should be, there is a reassuringly “normal” quality that surrounds their mediocrity. Maroon 5 have always released pleasing, immaculate music and there is more of the same on the album. In recent years, the group have modernised their sound, welcoming more R&B into their pop tracks. The opening track “Best 4 U” is an early example of this. Not only does the title look like a teenager’s WhatsApp inbox, but the production is equally teen-friendly. Levine has definitely been listening to too much Drake, as he imitates his spoken/sung/rapped style at times. “Wait” also sounds very 2017, with a halftime R&B / trap hybrid beat and some nicely edited vocals. Levine has actually sang with Akon and Bruno Mars in the past, but on “Red Pill Blues” the band have invited some current R&B voices into the studio. Influenced by The Weeknd, “Lips On You” is a decent listen, if you ignore the cringeworthy lyrics about pleasing his woman.

It is hard not to like this band, especially when tracks like “Bet My Heart” are just built for daytime radio listening. However they do seem to be able to suck the life out of their collaborators, and not just on the severely edited vocals from Levine’s duet with SZA. Her rawness has completely disappeared on “What Lovers Do”, and her performance, for once, sounds lifeless. Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky sound equally uncomfortable, as they wander aimlessly through their features. They were, after all, an odd choice and they fail to act as much more than just a name on the track listing. Starrah also appears, a voice that is in high demand since singing hooks on popular songs with Jeremih and Katy Perry. The rest of the band do actually show up for the party as the album progresses, on “Denim Jacket” and “Visions” there is still a majority of computer-based production, but the guitars and keys are well executed.

It feels like Maroon 5 have always been here, and it seems as if they always will be. But with songwriting from the man behind some of One Direction and Jason Derulo’s hits, John Ryan, there still are more forgettable tracks than notable ones on their latest offering. The mixing help from Serban Ghena, who has a string of successful pop releases on his CV, has worked wonders though. Why not visit us at your local Richer Sounds today for a listen in one of our demo rooms?