Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues (2017)

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Employing grooves, moves and all kinds of smooth, Maroon 5 has become known for ’70s-influenced R&B- and funk-laden tunes, completed with plenty of added sexual innuendo. That has cemented their space in Top 40 radio, so maybe it’s no surprise Red Pill Blues doesn’t stray too far from their roots.

You think it would work once more, since each of Maroon 5’s albums have gone platinum, but something is amiss. The truth is, Red Pill Blues would have been vastly improved had they chosen to experiment more.

Despite some personal changes – once a fivesome, the group is now a septet – Maroon 5 still boasts its most recognizable and signature characteristic: lead singer Adam Levine’s high-pitched pre-pubescent voice. On this, their sixth album, Maroon 5 seems to be craving change but is afraid to pull the trigger. The risks they take fall short because it sounds like Maroon 5 doesn’t want to let go of their mainstream-radio success anytime soon.

That’s how you end up with Maroon 5’s collaborations with artists like Julia Michaels and Kendrick Lamar. Levine typically works well alongside young talent, but there are varying degrees of success on “Help Me Out” with Michaels and “Don’t Wanna Know” with Lamar.

In “Help Me Out,” Levine’s falsetto-driven bravado simply overpowers everything; it feels jumbled and all over the place. Luckily, Michaels’ voice counteracts that effect. Her tone compliments the song, and is reminiscent of the sounds of Katy Perry. Bringing some flavor into the mix is Kendrick Lamar, who lends his skills with a funky, island-inspired ditty. “Don’t Wanna Know” pairs well with the sensual undertones of Levine’s falsetto, which is more subdued this time. This finally brings some much-appreciated complexity and variety to Red Pill Blues.

Maroon 5 continues to explore rhythm with “Plastic Rose” and “Denim Jacket,” which opt for a more up-tempo beat. For “Plastic Rose,” they bring the listener into a club: The song is chock full of synth-based house beats. Adam Levine’s voice is just what you would expect of the singer, although the combination is a bit unusual for the band. Here, again, Maroon 5 takes a small, very welcome step out of the comfort zone of their usual catalog. You only wish they’d have done that a little more.

At first, “Denim Jacket” – a story of lost love and regret – feels a bit too similar, seeming to chase coattails with a take that replicates “Plastic Rose” in composition and production. But this lovelorn ballad set to electronic music is possibly the best song on Red Pill Blues. Certainly, it’s the most cohesive. Everything seems to fit together just perfectly: The mix of music and lyrics is in perfect harmony, and Levine nails the vocal, too.

In the end, Maroon 5’s Red Pill Blues is sleek, sexy and everything you would expect from a Top 40 band. That will no doubt ensure the band’s continued pop fame, as they continue embracing their well-established identity. You can’t help but wonder, however, how great this album would have been if they’d more consistently risen above the easy expectations of their fans and these times.

Kristina Mondo

Kristina Mondo

Kristina Mondo is New Jersey native, freelance writer, blogger and music enthusiast and a New Jersey Press Association Award winner. See more of her work at Off the Record: https://tunestoursandmore.wordpress.com/. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kristina Mondo

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