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Album of the Week: Maroon 5's 'Red Pill Blues'
After making their introduction with the poignant guitar-centric Songs About Jane in 2002, Maroon 5 went on to craft hit after hit across the following four albums, all of which have been No. 1 or No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. While some from-the-beginning fans have longed for a Songs About Jane Pt. 2, the pop-rock band instead evolved their sound, combining each member’s impressive musicianship with groovy experimentation – and on the group’s sixth LP, Red Pill Blues, the result may be their most polished yet.
The 15-song record presents the most electronic production the band has seen to date. They’ve found a way to harness that in classic Maroon 5 fashion, though, supplementing the synthy bass lines with irresistible beats and smooth vocals. This was immediately evident from the album’s lead single, the SZA-featuring “What Lovers Do,” which provides a perfect segue to the rest of the record with buoyant brightness and a bouncy hook.
Starting out the album with a multi-layered rhythm reminiscent of a Weeknd track on “Best 4 U,” Red Pill Blues takes fans on a rollercoaster ride of melodies and feelings from start to finish. And while there are heavier thumps behind the instruments on songs such as “Wait” and “Lips On You,” the amped-up production doesn’t take away from the artistry. More over, there’s still plenty of acoustic influence behind the beats, especially apparent in tracks like “Bet My Heart” and “Girls Like You,” and even a 7-minute jam session at the end of "Closure" -- a refreshing new addition to the band's catalog.
One of the other standout differences on Maroon 5’s latest LP is the amount of team-ups: Collaborations account for 6 of the 15 tracks, far more than any other record in their discography. But rather than taking away from their own talents, the variety of the featured artists – from Julia Michaels (“Help Me Out”) to Kendrick Lamar (“Don’t Wanna Know”) – further demonstrates their versatility and sprinkles unique flavors on the album with tracks like the wavy LunchMoney Lewis-assisted “Who I Am” and whispery croon “Whiskey” with A$AP Rocky.
Arguably the track most reminiscent of Maroon 5's first album is "Denim Jacket," essentially an electronic version of a ballad, as Levine sings of a lost love with hopeful regret. Another breakup sentiment is portrayed in the form of a snappier electro beat in "Plastic Rose," one that's a little bitterer in its message. It's this lyrical and musical contrast that shows Maroon 5's expertise, a reminder that no matter the change in sound, they can still produce profound sounds. And when it comes to the lyrical content, Maroon 5 has remained prolific in their various portrayals of relationship talk, whether it’s through metaphors (“All you gave me was a plastic rose”) or punchy opening lines ("Are we taking time or a time out?/ I can't take the in between").
Anyone still hoping for another Songs About Jane-esque album from Maroon 5 should give Red Pill Blues a few listens. Between the diversity in the sounds and the feels the group triggers throughout, Maroon 5 channels a similar magic with their latest record, but with a little 2017 twist. Red Pill Blues feels like a culmination of the group's triumphant debut and the masterful hook-making abilities they've displayed since, ultimately indicating that while the 2002 Maroon 5 is great, the 2017 Maroon 5 is legendary.