I’m not exaggerating when I say that Maroon 5 has been around for as long as I can remember. As a child, I heard “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved” emanating from supermarket speakers; in middle and high school, singles like “Moves Like Jagger” and “Maps” were the songs du jour. The band has persisted throughout multiple presidencies, lineups (FYI: despite its name, Maroon 5 actually has seven members at the moment), and developments in the music industry.
Hence, it doesn’t seem too surprising that its sixth studio album, Red Pill Blues, was just released. The sixth Maroon 5 album? you might be asking yourself. Well, why shouldn’t there be one? Has Maroon 5 not become a constant presence in the American pop landscape—always either prowling around confidently or lingering in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to reemerge?
As one might expect, Red Pill Blues is not particularly confrontational or challenging. The most controversial thing about the album is the phrase “red pill” in its title, which was intended by the band as a reference to The Matrix, but has been appropriated by “men’s rights” activists as of late. Nevertheless, although nothing on the album is so novel as to be remarkable, it’s surely enough to entertain listeners. After all, it has Adam Levine’s familiar, distinctive voice, and it’s full of everyday stories of romance gone wrong—and that’s the essence of the Maroon 5 formula that fans have loved for basically two decades now.
Red Pill Blues sees Maroon 5 veering away from its pop-rock roots and dabbling in a new genre: the mellow, EDM-tinged pop and R&B that has been dominating the radio waves lately. Some of the songs execute this sound well—for example, the glimmering first track “Best 4 U.” It’s clearly ‘80s-inspired, channeling The Weeknd channeling Michael Jackson, and although it’s a departure from the band’s older repertoire, it has the same energetic vibe. Another highlight is the following track, “What Lovers Do” (featuring. SZA). Much like the work of DNCE, a more newly formed band that has recently blended retro influences with modern sleekness, the song bounces along over a funky mid-tempo groove. Levine’s falsetto makes the chorus stand out, while everything about SZA’s part, from her unrehearsed-sounding laugh to the confidence in her smooth vocals, adds to the song’s sheen.
There are moments, though, when the juxtaposition of genres that the album attempts doesn’t quite work. The hooks clearly aren’t as strong; sure, the technological noises at the beginning of “Don’t Wanna Know” are kind of interesting, but they’re not half as great as the band’s best guitar riffs. On top of that, there’s the issue of featured rappers—which the band has worked with before (see “Payphone” ft. Wiz Khalifa), but not to this extent. A quick glance at the tracklist will reveal that some of rap’s biggest names, such as A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and Future, make appearances here. However, none of their verses contribute to their respective songs in a way that feels necessary—especially when it comes to “Whiskey,” where A$AP Rocky’s sudden “Woo!” interrupts the somber mood in a way that’s mildly startling.
Speaking of somberness, another prominent trend on the album is recurring melancholia. It just wouldn’t be accurate to call Maroon 5 a “happy” band—after all, most of their biggest hits have focused on some form of conflict or dissatisfaction (hey, one is even called “Misery”). Nevertheless, in most of its singles, even the ones that are lyrically sad, there’s a certain fun in the intense, all-too-relatable displays of emotion that the band presents. On Red Pill Blues, some of the songs are just… blue, if you will. Make no mistake, though—that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of the album’s best moments are its most downcast. The desperate chorus of “Wait,” complete with a pivotal key change and pleading repetition, is a particularly well-constructed pop moment. Even more interesting is “Visions,” a reggae-influenced song that builds a story of obsession and tension with horn noises and an infectious bassline.
Red Pill Blues won’t go down in history as Maroon 5’s best album. It doesn’t have a “Makes Me Wonder” or “This Love”; it doesn’t even have a “Payphone.” Still, it’s a sign that the band knows how to stay relevant and keep people nodding along as it navigates the choppy waters of romance through its lyrics. Right now, it seems that as long as there’s heartbreak, Maroon 5 will be here to sing about it—and we’ll be here to listen.