I’ve been with Maroon 5 ever since Songs About Jane. Arguably their best album, their earliest work is a far cry from Red Pill Blues; SAJ triumphs because it departed from the usual — because it flipped the pop world on its head with jazzy riffs and smooth vocals. RPB isn’t BAD by any means, but it definitely doesn’t have the same soul as Jane, which is what made me fall for this band in the first place.
Now, Maroon 5 has been straying from their roots for awhile now (Overexposed was a dance album, if nothing else), and, in the past, I’ve commended them for it. Being able to be one of the most prominent bands on the pop scene for over 10 years isn’t an easily accomplishable feat, and the boys of Maroon 5 have only been able to do so because of their ability to adapt to new music trends. While I haven’t really loved anything since 2010’s Hands All Over (my personal favorite, just slightly edging out SAJ), I understood what they were doing and why. Even on this trajectory, though, Red Pill Blues falls short.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: why are there seven members of this band called Maroon 5? I need to circle for a minute, so stay with me on this: I’ve seen Maroon 5 on every U.S. tour they’ve had. Every single one. But, I don’t plan on going to the next one, because I was so utterly confused by their last performance. In previous years, their live sound had been immaculate and undoubtedly added to the experience of the recorded albums. Last time, however, I found myself not being able to identify many songs until the vocals started, because they sounded so different from what I was used to hearing. I realized this was because, on their first four albums, they recorded using actual instruments. On V, they didn’t. I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t even know they were playing “Sugar” until the chorus because it sounded so foreign.
So, I repeat: why are there seven members of Maroon 5? My working theory is that, obviously, they wanted a more electronic sound, so they added those kinds of musicians to the band. But — and this is a big one — with this sound, they don’t sound like Maroon 5 anymore. The people of Maroon 5 are instrumentalists, not digitizers. Maroon 5 has turned into more of the Adam Levine Project, and I really wish he had just done a side solo-project and the band had continued with its jazzy roots. It’s not bad, but it’s not Maroon 5.
“Closure” seems to be the kind of token-Maroon-5 track, clocking in at 11:28. The entire second half of the song is a jazzy instrumental that showcases the other band members. However, a lot of the other tracks — “Best 4 U,” “Who I Am,” and “Visions” in particular — have boring melodies, forgettable lyrics, and little vocal or instrumental improvisation. The album is riddled with low-risk dance tracks that get old after about the fourth time you listen to them, but I guess that’s what music today is.
The, ultimately, bigger problem with RPB is that it not only divulges from other Maroon 5 fodder in its sound, but in its lyricism, as well. The beauty of the band’s earlier work came in its honesty, and this latest release just doesn’t have it. It’s, overall, a break-up album, but Levine — who is generally the lyricist — is happily married with one new-ish baby and another on the way. He just doesn’t sound like he should be singing the trademark juvenile love songs (in a good way) Maroon 5 is famous for. I just don’t believe a 38-year-old happily married man when he sings about how “cold” his ex-lover is or how she left him with only a “plastic rose”.
The main problem develops, then, when you put these two together. It’s by no means a poorly written album, but it doesn’t seem to mesh. Maroon 5 evolved their sound to fit the current pop world, but they didn’t evolve their writing. It’s that their experiences don’t match what they’re singing about; Levine isn’t a hot bachelor dating around anymore, so why is he still singing about that?
Unfortunately, I think Red Pill Blues might be even more forgettable than V, but I won’t give up hope for whatever comes next. Maybe they can call their next release “Maroon 7” and at least clear up some confusion there.