Maroon 5 - Red Pill Blues
by Srinandini Mukherjee
I’ll be honest: I chose to review Maroon 5 due to a long-lasting nostalgia I have towards their music from 15 years ago. Songs like She Will Be Loved and I Won’t Go Home Without You are still fondly played on my phone every now and then, along with a few favourites I have picked up from the band over the last decade, and they never fail to make me happy. Now, here we are in 2017, and the band I once loved is buried under a pile of synth sounds, falsettos, and bland lyrics.
It doesn’t start off too badly. In spite of the cringy use of a number in the title, Best 4 You shows off Adam Levine’s voice as well as his falsetto, without letting it overpower the entire song, and the lyrics which describe someone feeling like they’re not good enough for their partner are pretty decent. Even though it gets a bit repetitive after the first minute or so, this is Maroon 5 as we know them. Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from here.
Let’s begin by talking about one of the most well-known features of Maroon 5 - Levine’s falsetto, which has been smoothly used over the years to give their tracks a wow factor, and enhance their emotional value. Over the years, and particularly in this album, however, Levine has gone down the path of Sam Smith and DNCE’s Joe Jonas: he appears to be bringing in those high notes just because he can. Far from being moving however, the overuse of the falsetto in this album appeared useless, and almost jarring to me several times. Tracks like Help Me Out and Denim Jacket might show off Levine’s vocal range with him switching between octaves, but it’s clear that the falsetto brings nothing to the song besides a mild surprise factor. This, combined with the fact that these tracks aren’t particularly standout for their tunes or lyrics weakens the album overall.
As someone who prefers understated, acoustic pop, the recent movement of numerous artists towards electropop can’t help but annoy me. Maroon 5 are no exception - in this album, more than ever before, I find the band leaning on electric sounds. I understand wanting to follow the trends of the charts, however, I feel like they could have used the synth sounds and beats a little more effectively. Songs like Wait and Bet My Heart sound like they could have some potential if an acoustic cover of the same was created, but on the album, the overuse of the electronic element, combined with the falsetto strips these supposedly romantic songs from all emotion. That being said, when Maroon 5 aren’t being overtaken by electronic sounds, the other musicians in the band are doing a pretty good job of creating catchy backing tracks. Tracks like What Lovers Do and Visions are worth a second listen just for the instrumental effort - the band members behind Levine who we often forget about deserve some appreciation.
Maroon 5 also seem to engage in several collaborations in this album. Sometimes, it mildly improves the song: SZA’s vocals in What Lovers Do are a pleasant break from Adam’s falsettos, and Kendrick Lamar’s rap in Don’t Wanna Know adds an interesting change of pace to the already-catchy song. Other collaborations are less successful- Who I Am, featuring LunchMoney Lewis sounds like a confused effort, with a weak tune, and beyond cringy lyrics, such as ‘‘Don’t ask me if I love you/ ’Cause I’m sure as the night is long”.
At the end of the day, I’m disappointed with Red Pill Blues, but not really surprised. Maybe it was only natural for Maroon 5 to go down the road that so many other artists have followed - conforming to current trends of electropop tunes and meaningless lyrics. Given that this is nonetheless the most popular style of music at the moment with majority of pop listeners, maybe they will even be appreciated for it. I, however, Don’t Wanna Know what their next album sounds like, and will be sticking to my 2000s Maroon 5 playlist from now on.