Maroon 5, Red Pill Blues | Album Review
As expected, Maroon 5 fully embrace the modern pop script on ‘Red Pill Blues.’ Despite a so-so promo campaign, the album ends is ‘better than expected.’
There comes a time when even the most devoted fan loses enthusiasm for a given artist. In this case, as a lifelong fan of Maroon 5, the promo campaign of Red Pill Blues left a lot to be desired. Therefore, being incredibly excited for the new album just didn’t happen this go-round. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Adam Levine and company seem content to assimilate to modern pop trends, opting for more synths and programming as opposed to guitars and drums. Nonetheless, the final product that is Red Pill Blues over performs personal expectations…a little bit.
“Best 4 U”
“Best 4 U” kicks off Red Pill Blues impressively. A sleek electro pop-R&B joint, “Best 4 U” latches from onset. The confirmation comes on the catchy, memorable chorus.
“I just want the best for you / I just want the best for you / But I’m just not the best for you / You don’t want what I’m gonna put ya through.”
Adam Levine sounds superb, excelling over this chill backdrop. Maroon 5 smartly follow-up with “What Lovers Do,” enlisting SZA for the assist. As a single, “What Lovers Do” was enjoyable, but not necessarily elite. In the context of the album, given the pop tilt, it works out well for the band. It’s catchy if over-simplistic, and the groove is irresistible.
“Lips on You”
“Wait” offers another slick, electro-pop, urban contemporary record that’s pleasant. Even so, it comes off “light.” Good enough but not great, there’s just little substance taking “Wait” to the next level. It’s not irresponsible, but there’s just not much to distinguish it from better records. “Lips on You” is one of those better records from Red Pill Blues, that oozes with personality and of course, sex. While it’s no ‘the second coming,’ it’s well-executed and fits Levine perfectly.
“When I put my lips on you / You feel the shivers go up and down your spine for me / Make you cry for me / When I put my lips on you.”
Unfortunately, at times when Maroon 5 gets momentum on Red Pill Blues, they fall short of the glory right after their achievement. Such is the case of “Bet My Heart,” a respectable number, but not great. “Help Me Out” with Julia Michaels actually benefits from its familiarity as a single, despite the skepticism personally bestowed in advance of the album. If nothing more, the vocal chemistry between Levine and Michaels is a selling point. The message is schmaltzy, but it has its redeeming qualities.
“Who I Am” featuring LunchMoney Lewis is forgettable, plain and simple. Levine sings well, but the song itself is meh. “Whiskey,” featuring A$AP Rocky provides atonement. After opening with mysterious piano accompaniment, the record moves along slowly, but surely. Levine offers a cool and poised performance throughout, never breaking a sweat. Even with such restrained production work, a catchy chorus plays in the band’s favor. A$AP Rocky arrives for the third verse, using various alcohol to discuss love, good and bad.
Interestingly, the standard edition of Red Pill Blues features just two more songs – “Girls Like You” and “Closure.” “Girls Like You” is decent – slick, well-sung, and feel-good. However, it’s not ‘next level,’ which is one of the issues of Red Pill Blues. “Closure” has its fair share of attributes. First and foremost, the production work is excellent – crisp, clean, and groovy. Vocally, Adam Levine continues to shine. The chorus is also infectious. The big rub is the length. While there’s great appreciation for the work the musicians put in, eleven-and-a-half minutes pushes it – about eight minutes of that is instrumental!
While “Closure” is too drawn out, it makes sense as the closer on the standard edition. However, on the deluxe version, it feels misplaced. The fantastic “Denim Jacket” easily makes up for it. Those who cheap out will miss out on this reminiscent, innocent gem. Well, innocent save for the f-bomb that is. “Visions” doesn’t quite reach the same heights – maybe it’s the overplayed reggae-pop script. Like everything else, it’s enjoyable and not really objectionable. The danceable urban-pop cut “Plastic Rose” is stronger, another record that should’ve made the standard edition of Red Pill Blues. Go figure.
The final two songs of the deluxe edition are familiar, for better or worse. The first is 2016 ‘promo’ single, “Don’t Wanna Know,” featuring Kendrick Lamar. This was a lazy record to say the least, thanks to a lack of inspiration and overindulgence in repetition. It received its fair share of criticism upon its arrival, rightfully. Perhaps that’s why it arrives as a bonus. The final song, “Cold,” featuring Future, was better, but not necessarily missed on the standard edition either.
All in all, Red Pill Blues is one, great big, pop album. Once the listener accepts and embraces that fact, much like Maroon 5 embrace modern pop themselves, they’ll appreciate Red Pill Blues a little more. This isn’t a horrible album, it’s just not a vintage Maroon 5 project. There are plenty of enjoyable songs that are fun and slickly produced, but there’s nothing revolutionary or transcendent. Still, there’s some pleasure to be had from hearing Adam Levine nail his falsetto.
Gems: “Best 4 U,” “What Lovers Do,” “Lips on You,” “Denim Jacket” & “Plastic”
Maroon 5 • Red Pill Blues • Interscope • Release: 11.3.17
Photo Credit: Interscope