Maroon 5’s Adam Levine says new album Red Pill Blues is about the right songs at the right time
While album title Red Pills Blues offers subtle commentary on current affairs, frontman Adam Levine says its collection of toe-tapping, funk-inflected tracks is more about the art of timely songwriting than out-and-out protest
Tensions may be mounting dangerously around the world for a number of reasons, but for Maroon 5, this is not the time for protest songs – it’s time to dance.
The chart-topping pop-rockers released their sixth studio album, Red Pill Blues, last Friday, a collection of toe-tapping, funk-inflected tracks that mine the emotional drama of human relationships.
Frontman Adam Levine, whose ever-impressive falsetto again powers much of the music, was unapologetic about not joining the growing number of pop stars who are getting political on their 2017 albums, saying he can count on one hand the number of protest songs he found successful.
“I can tell you right now that every songwriter that just sat down and said, ‘I’m going to write a song that is going to change the world,’ probably did not do that,” Levine says.
The 38-year-old singer – who has become an even bigger presence in US pop culture as a coach on television talent show The Voice – is not afraid of expressing his political views, which lean left. He has taken to social media to criticise President Donald Trump and has been a long-time champion of gay rights.
“Sometimes people trivialise the existence of pop music a lot by saying, ‘It’s stupid, let’s write a protest song.’ But that’s an extremely narrow-minded way to look at it,” he says. “I think that pop music has a level of sophistication that sometimes goes undetected. Releasing the right kind of songs at the right times is an extremely important and underappreciated art form – in my humble opinion.”
Through its title, Red Pill Blues offers subtle commentary on the current moment. The imagery comes from sci-fi cult classic The Matrix, whose protagonist is offered a choice between the “red pill” of knowledge and the “blue pill” of ignorance.
Levine says that people today are “reluctantly informed – sometimes incorrectly informed – but I think there is a lot of reality rearing its ugly head”.
The album marks a further push into studio effects by Maroon 5, who achieved global triumphs with soul-like soft pop songs such as She Will Be Loved and energetic dance numbers such as Moves Like Jagger.
On Red Pill Blues, Maroon 5 let minimal, though melodic, keyboards take the lead on tracks such as Best 4 U, Plastic Rose and the early singles Don’t Wanna Know and What Lovers Do.
The album also sees Maroon 5 collaborating with top stars of the moment, including rappers Kendrick Lamar and Future, and singers SZA and Julia Michaels.
Guitarist James Valentine says Maroon 5 had less time to work together in the studio owing to Levine’s schedule on The Voice, but that the band saw the upsides of modern recording techniques, in which songs are shared with contributors by electronic files.
“We would get bored if we tried to make Songs About Jane six times,” Valentine says, referring to the group’s 2002 debut album. “So we’re always trying to mix it up.”
On most tracks Levine sings of love past and present, but said he was careful not to make the lyrics overly personal.
“I don’t want to make a record full of songs that say my problems are what really matters and how people feel about me is the most important,” he says.
“It’s almost like there has to be some sort of reflection of collective experience in your music – ‘I hurt you, you hurt me, we hurt each other.’ That’s a universal pop theme.”