Although few people can name any member of Maroon 5 besides Adam Levine, the neo-soul pop group’s music has always been recognizable. However, their sixth studio album, Red Pill Blues, is less obviously classic Maroon 5 than one might expect.
Released on Friday, Nov. 3, almost every song on the album is bass heavy; overall, the sound is meticulously produced pop-meets-R&B, clearly engineered for a Top 40 album.
For veteran Maroon 5 listeners, this is a more superficial, sexier R&B side of Maroon 5 that might make you fall even more in love with Levine. For new listeners, Red Pill Blues is a catchy gateway into the hugely successful pop group’s vibe. What the 15 song album lacks in substance and meaning, it makes up for in catchiness and famous features.
Looking back at the group’s history, before Maroon 5 was Maroon 5, it was Kara’s Flowers; the group released a debut album for Reprise Records that tanked, took a break to attend college, and then regrouped as Maroon 5.
The quintet embraced a more R&B sound, and Maroon 5 shot to stardom after releasing Songs About Jane, an album with chart-toppers like “This Love,” “She Will Be Loved,” and “Sunday Morning.” Since then, they have come out with It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, Hands All Over, Overexposed, and V.
Now, with over eight million followers on Spotify and at least 23 musical awards, Maroon 5 has released Red Pill Blues. The album got off to a rocky start, as some associated the title with the men’s rights movement, a confusion the group cleared up as soon as they could.
Red Pill Blues opens with “Best 4 U,” a song with a funky beat and echo-y synth. Adam Levine’s falsetto croons brilliantly poetic lyrics like “I just want the best for you/ But I’m just not the best for you”.
Up next comes “What Lovers Do,” featuring SZA, with a hook and melody so musically sticky that it will probably be attached to the listener’s brain for a few days. The same thing goes for “Don’t Wanna Know” featuring Kendrick Lamar, with repetitive lyrics that reflect on past heartbreak and not wanting to hear about an ex-lover’s new relationship. Released as a single in October, the song has been playing on repeat on every station and bar since then.
Like “Don’t Wanna Know,” “Help Me Out” (co-produced by Diplo) has Julia Michael’s delicate voice dancing across the endearing pop song, perfectly orchestrated for overplaying on the radio. “Who I Am” is unremarkable, with LunchMoney Lewis talking across the track — although Levine’s voice is as saccharine as ever and there’s a groovy guitar hook.
“Whiskey,” which features a mediocre verse from A$AP Rocky, feels like it’s going to crescendo or kick in but never does. Levine begins the song with nothing but his voice and simple piano as he serenades about how a girl made him grow up and warmed him “like a whiskey.”
Moving forward, there are several songs on Red Pill Blues that stand out for sounding more natural and less produced. One song that might appeal to longtime fans of Maroon 5 is “Denim Jacket,” which is the most reminiscent track to the earlier sounds of Songs About Jane.
The most unique and over-the-top track is “Visions,” with its heavy reggae sound that one could assume is supposed to correlate with lyrics talking about being inebriated or in a trance due to heartbreak.
Ultimately, Red Pill Blues delves more into the clubbier, hip-hop end of the R&B spectrum, very much embracing 2017 with its bass-centric jams and star-studded features. It’s not that Red Pill Blues doesn’t sound like Maroon 5, but rather that Maroon 5 is focusing on making a new sound for themselves.