Fifteen years and five albums since the release of its critically acclaimed debut, “Songs About Jane,” quintessential pop rock group Maroon 5 is creating quite a different sound.
The sultry rock songs that launched the band to stardom in the early 2000s would not find a place on its new albums, like “Red Pill Blues” released last Friday.
Although “Red Pill Blues” has all the romantic lyricism characteristic of the band, and particularly of lead singer Adam Levine, the album has a distinct electronic pop sound, somewhat reminiscent of The Chainsmokers. This electronic sound makes for a few fun, catchy tracks but is ultimately disappointing — the album does not profess emotion with the same melancholic music that most Maroon 5 fans are accustomed to.
“Red Pill Blues” is the most the band has ever dared to experiment with electronic music, but the risk has not paid off. Few of the songs are remarkable, and rather seem to be one-time hits that will not likely stand the test of time, unlike earlier standards like “She Will Be Loved” and “Sunday Morning.” These electronic beats do not complement the silkiness of Levine’s voice and even make the album’s love songs feel unromantic.
The title of the album is a reference to 1999 science-fiction film “The Matrix” in which the protagonist, Neo, must choose whether to swallow a red pill and discover an ugly truth or take a blue pill and remain ignorant of reality. The theme is reflected throughout the album, as Levine grapples with both the happier and the darker, painful sides of love.
The album opens with “Best 4 You,” an upbeat song with a strong beat, but one that sounds more like a song by The Weeknd or Daft Punk than one by Maroon 5. “Best 4 You” has some of Levine’s old-school charm that Maroon 5 fans will enjoy, but the hectic electronic beats distract from the charisma of Levine’s lyrics and vocals.
“Best 4 You” leads into the album’s standout track, “What Lovers Do,” featuring up-and-coming singer SZA, which is currently fifth on iTunes’ list of top songs. SZA’s smooth vocals complement Levine’s perfectly, and in this song, the bouncy electronic beat is upbeat but not overwhelming.
Most tracks on the album have a formulaic and repetitive lyrical structure. The verses are composed of simple rhymes, and the hooks and choruses tend to repeat the same two or three lines, a clear departure from the intricate love ballads from “Songs About Jane.”
“Songs About Jane” established Maroon 5 as one of the best pop rock bands in the music industry, with its tender lyrics, sensual moments and wistful melodies. In this album, songs were mainly played on acoustic guitar and drums with few added effects, giving the music a much more analog sound to accompany Levine’s voice.
But since then, and especially on “Red Pill Blues,” Maroon 5 has strayed from the trademark sound that propelled it to success. On its latest album, electronic instrumentals are overused, and the songs lack the vulnerability and emotion that the members of Maroon 5 has proven they are capable of evoking.
On the other hand, Levine’s voice carries the same power and emotion as always. On songs like “Denim Jacket” and “What Lovers Do,” his voice reaches impressively high octaves.
Another standout track on the album, “Wait,” has a distinct, compelling rhythm that matches the lyrical themes of patience and urgency. “Denim Jacket” is another highlight of the album, coming closest to Maroon 5’s original style of setting poetic lyrics to catchy guitar riffs. However, its electronic elements prevent the song from creating true feelings of intimacy or romance.
For fans of Maroon 5 hoping the band will return to its roots, “Red Pill Blues” is not quite the answer to their prayers.
Although its songs touch on the feelings of longing and lust that Maroon 5 is famous for singing about, the album’s lyrics are largely lacking in poignancy and true substance and feel mechanical. As a result, the album feels more like a string of generic electronic pop songs than it does anything else. This album shows that Maroon 5 is taking risks and moving in a new direction, but perhaps it should rethink its new sound and consider a return to roots.