Following the release of their seminal breakthrough record Songs About Jane, Maroon 5’s career has been a mixed bag. For every major hit (‘Moves Like Jagger’), there’d be forgettable filler (‘Daylight’), and some of their best songs (‘Payphone’) have been marred by unnecessary rap sections. And as the band moved further away from instrumentals towards the electronic style they first adopted for Overexposed, the band have been increasingly divisive. Much like that record and V, the ridiculously-titled Red Pill Blues skirts the line between listenable and forgettable, though without any killer tracks like ‘Maps’ to make it stick out from the other pop in the market.
“Maroon 5 have successful incorporated a number of musical styles”
The first thing you’ll notice is that the first two singles released for the record are absent from its standard edition, and while the record doesn’t suffer from the loss of ‘Cold’, ‘Don’t Wanna Know’ would have been a much stronger opening than the downright boring. ‘Best 4 U’. Maroon 5 have successful incorporated a number of musical styles into their discography from pop to funk to electronica, but the Drake-influenced bridge in this one (which actually could be confused for ‘One Dance’) is one of the most tedious musical moments of 2017.
Happily, the more recent singles ‘What Lovers Do’, ‘Help Me Out’ and ‘Whiskey’ do make the cut, each of which is better than either of these early tracks. ‘What Lovers Do’ is easily the best song on the record, a subtle earworm that would have been the sound of the summer if it was released a couple of months earlier. While Adam Levine’s vocals sound strained and autotuned on ‘Help Me Out’, it is featured artist and co-writer Julia Michaels who really makes this song, which sounds much more like her solo material than anything Maroon 5 have done, and is all the better for it. Meanwhile, ‘Whiskey’ successfully and surprisingly mixes EDM danceability with tender and heartfelt meaning, though it could have done without A$AP Rocky’s verse.
It wouldn’t be a modern-day Maroon 5 record without a fair share of forgettable songs, which the band manage to sneak in despite Red Pill Blue’s short length. ‘Wait’ and ‘Bet My Heart’ both go nowhere and take a long time doing so, a phenomenon which also plagues the much better ‘Lips On You’ – though at least this song generates atmosphere while it builds towards a climax which never comes.
“Injects some much-needed personality”
Happily things pick up with ‘Who I Am’, one of the most upbeat songs on the record, whose unexpected country riffage and a surprisingly un-intrusive rap section (courtesy of LunchMoney Lewis) injects some much-needed personality into the record. ‘Girls Like You’ ditches some of the EDM elements to become a decent pop song, but its weak chorus means it has more in common with songs of a similar vein in the messy V (see ‘Leaving California’) than Hands All Over.
“There is nothing to make this stick out from all the other pop”
‘Closure’ seems as though it’s going to be an appropriately underwhelming, if not bad – uhm – closure to the record at first, but then transforms itself into one of the band’s most ambitions songs to date. Rounding off with an eight-minute long instrumental jazz jam section, which in itself is better than most of the songs Red Pill Blues has to offer, it never feels as long as it actually is. The record is worth listening for these final few minutes (which evoke Songs About Jane) alone.
Red Pill Blues is a different kind of record than those which Maroon 5 have released in recent years, not one which exists to push singles (that much is evident from the absence of ‘Don’t Wanna Know’ and ‘Cold’), but rather focuses on creating a more cohesive sound after the mess of the sometimes-great, often-bland V. This record all-in-all is better than that, the band’s previous effort, though with no essential song like ‘Sugar’ and almost as many skippable tracks as decent ones, there is nothing to make this stick out from all the other pop and EDM titles in the market today.
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