Album Review: Red Pill Blues by Maroon 5

Many of you might not have heard, but Maroon 5 released their sixth studio album Red Pill Blues more than a week ago. Sam Smith managed to leapfrog the group in the charts with The Thrill of It All. But before we cry their career is over and dissect this record for the many things it’s not, let’s remember to give props to this band that has lasted for more than 15 years and demonstrated their longevity. Quite frankly, they have nothing to prove.

If there’s one word I’d use to describe Maroon 5 and their music, it would be RELIABLE. And the same is true about their latest. It’s not groundbreaking. Not much risk is taken. But you can’t go wrong with being safe and capitalizing on a formula that has gotten you millions of records and concert tickets sold.

It’s got all the cheese and bubblegum that has characterized their recent efforts. The themes continue to center around romance – moving forward, longingness, unrequited love, and at times, how rewarding it can be. You have the occasional high notes from Adam Levine, parallelism to plastic roses, whiskey and denim jackets, and the hooks that you can’t help but sing along to once you’ve heard it multiple times.

At this point, how do you spice things up? I guess the approach Maroon 5 took was to employ artists from other genres, as demonstrated by the first three singles they released to the public and the two promotional tracks they offered. We saw Kendrick Lamar, Future, SZA, A$AP Rocky and Julia Michaels.

Not to take away anything from how amazing these artists are, but the songs would’ve worked just as well even if their parts were taken out or sung by Adam himself. And this is a common sickness of Maroon 5 music – infusing bridges or exchanges with artists without a real compelling need. I was almost worried that the entire album would be of collaborations, but only half of it is. Let’s remember, this tactic is not exactly new – If  I Never See Your Face Again, Moves Like Jagger and Payphone. But the extent they have done so is unprecedented.

To date, they have refused to get social or political in their music. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But most acts who cemented their legendary status invoked their artistry in subjects bigger than themselves. Their music grew with the audiences they were serving. Think Beyonce, U2 and even Coldplay. I guess that’s one reason they have experienced some fallout.

My favorite song on the record has to be Closure. At first, I thought my copy of the album was broken or bugged, as an instrumental went on forever. But it was the group just jamming with their keyboard, guitar, organ and all the tools at their disposal. It’s almost like what you’d expect in jazz bars. And I’m not trying to appropriate this genre to Maroon 5 before I get any of the La La Land backlash. And I’m reminded of just how talented they are – singer, songwriters who also play and create the entirety of their music. This is a welcome display of their skills.

It’s no Songs About Jane. But it is in the same league as all their other albums.

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