Allow me a quick guess here: You’ve hated Maroon 5 for a few years now. Okay, maybe “hate” isn’t the right word—maybe you’ve been mostly disappointed, underwhelmed at best at their transformation into the pop machine they are now. Maybe it’s when the band stuck Wiz Khalifa on “Payphone” for an absurd verse they could’ve done without. Maybe it’s when you heard how light-footed “Sugar” was. Maybe you let all that slide, but you couldn’t handle the clear hip-hop-style sample and sound of “Don’t Wanna Know” last year. Or maybe it was when they just started to sound poppier as early as It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.
The point is Red Pill Blues, this new Maroon 5, is not the Maroon 5 you grew up listening to. You wanted guitars, at least. You wanted them to sound like a rock band, or something like it.
I understand all that, and I even had a cringey initial reaction to the Kendrick Lamar single (and I love Kendrick), but I’m here to tell you that Red Pill Blues sounds like the most fun they’ve had in this decade. They’ve added a new band member, keyboardist Sam Ferrar (bringing them up to a total of Maroon 7), who previously worked with them in a remix of Spider-Man 2 gem “Woman.” His addition makes for slick, easily-digestible tracks like “What Lovers Do,” “Help Me Out,” and “Who I Am.” And nothing says “we’re going out to make music the way we want to” than an epic 11-minute Steely Dan-style smooth rock jam.
The whole thing sounds like they’ve taken a whole load off their shoulders since the last album. Where V sounded like they were trying to transition while still attempting to retain classic elements, here on Red Pill Blues they’ve fully embraced the natural progression of their sound—and all they’re waiting for is you to take a chance and do the same. Maybe not for songs like “Don’t Wanna Know,” as it still got some misses like all records will have, but this album’s got some of the best pop music of this year, and it’s not out of place either. You just have to let go of who you think Maroon 5’s supposed to be.
Think about it—frontman Adam Levine has been doing hip-hop and R&B features since 2004, when Kanye West himself had him sing on “Heard ‘Em Say.” Oh, and ‘Ye remixed “This Love,” too, for those who didn’t catch it. Levine hasn’t stopped since then; you’ve heard him with acts like Eminem, 50 Cent, Gym Class Heroes, K’naan, and OutKast’s Big Boi. You’ve been hearing hip-hop/R&B Maroon 5 since high school, and Red Pill Blues is them finally making that happen.
It’s hard for an established act to conduct sonic experiments, and the history of music is full of artists who’ve tried to do something different. Red Pill Blues will go down, at worst, as a solid attempt to sound like what other bands (such as Paramore and Imagine Dragons) have already been doing this year; at best, it’s a great start toward a new direction. Some of you will want to stay with the blue pill, but Maroon 5’s got a hell of an offer with this red pill.
Art by Lara Intong
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