REVIEW: MAROON 5 – RED PILL BLUES 155

As one of the few (at least few I can name) bands of the modern age to have a career lasting more than a decade, Maroon 5 were once the dominant force in pop-rock charts around the world and now, they’re back to try and reassert said dominance with their sixth album Red Pill Blues.

There’s a glint of humour to Levine’s voice on opening number “Best 4 U” which makes the vocal seemingly shimmer on a track that’s as catchy as it is lyrically simplistic – (very). Follow up “What Lovers Do” featuring SZA, fares batter, upping the tempo somewhat and bringing back that almost infamous Levine falsetto that made the band so noteworthy back in their heyday.

“Wait” adds an R’n’B vibe to proceedings, something which doesn’t quite fit with the bands’ usual sound, but they should be commended for experimenting at a time when many of their artistic counterparts refuse to do so. “Lips On You” slows things right down, which is a shame as it disrupts the albums’ rhythm up to this point, however it does allow Levine’s vocal to take centre stage without distraction caused by guitars and a thumping drum beat. Nevertheless, it is the album’s weak point thus far.

“Bet My Heart” picks things up somewhat, certainly in terms of the tempo, although the track is far from anything special, while Julia Michaels’ guest vocal on “Help Me Out” is the best thing about the track and makes the song worthy of repeat listens and of its status as a current single. “Who I Am” meanwhile has a toe-tapping rhythm which is enjoyable enough, but its lyrically basic enough to have been written by a pre-teen.

A$AP Rocky’s appearance on “Whiskey” doesn’t fit with Maroon 5’s style or the album they’re unveiling to those who listen to it and so his vocal talent is lost among lyrics that make little to no sense such as “she kissed me like a whiskey.” That part of the song is memorable, but sadly for all the wrong reasons. “Girls Like You” is only marginally better, helped by its considerable club feel which “Closure” attempts to recreate, but it’s “Denim Jacket” that returns the album to somewhat stronger and more stable ground, and brings back Levine’s (much missed at this point) falsetto, before “Visions” injects a rather reggae twist to proceedings, although, despite being so different to anything else featured so far, works rather well.

It’s a shame therefore that “Plastic Rose” undoes most of the hard work delivered by its two predecessors, but the ‘mistake’ is rectified somewhat by the arrival of 2016 ‘s lead single “Don’t Wanna Know”, featuring Kendrick Lamar, although the song would work perfectly well without his input.

Closing with “Cold” which features Future, the collection ends on a surprisingly positive note as the instrumentation and vocal blend impressively well and while the album is no modern-day classic a la Songs About Jane, and is certainly more experimental, notably thanks to Levine and THAT vocal ability, Red Pill Blues certainly won’t see Maroon 5 fade into obscurity any time soon.

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REVIEW: THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS – AMERICA 37

Five years in the making, Thirty Seconds To Mars’ new album ‘America’, which Jared promoted this week by hitch-hiking his way across his home country as part of an event called #MarsAcrossAmerica, is most certainly a considerable shift away from what members of the Echelon have heard from the trio (though current duo) over the years. But is this said shift good or bad?

Beginning with “Walk On Water” which introduced both old and new fans alike to the bands’ new rather electro-edged sound, ‘America’ starts off well, especially given that the rather radio friendly “Dangerous Night” follows on from it.

“Rescue Me” ups the tempo somewhat, and with its toe-tapping, body swaying rhythm, combined with Jared’s rough edged vocal, it’s just over three and a half minutes of enjoyable considerably upbeat rock, and the simplistic chorus in particular will work well when – or if – its performed on their current Monolith tour.

Prior to the release of the album, the band gave a sneak peak of one of the album’s collaborations, with A$AP Rocky. Having watched said sneak peak, this reviewer personally felt his involvement was random and pointless. Fortunately however, and for reasons unknown, he doesn’t feature on my (likely all UK albums) version and with the song performed for the most part in a breathy, almost dream-like manner, it would most likely have been completely ruined with Rocky’s inclusion.

The “Monolith” instrumental, AKA track 5, doesn’t really serve any purpose, however it does lead into the album’s one collaboration that REALLY does work – that of Jared and Halsey on “Love Is Madness” – one of the darker tracks, but not the darkest, on the album. She compliments Jared perfectly, enhancing the song and its sultry mood/feel to the point where it easily stands out as a highlight of the collection.

“Great Wide Open” is an inspiring track, and one that’s perfect to listen to when you’re out discovering yourself or exploring this world we live in, or most likely, doing both at the same time. It’s the type of song you can see playing behind a montage of a person’s life, as their friends and family pay tribute to or celebrate them in some form or another, and with that in mind, it’s one of the album’s strongest, and most emotive, pieces.

Mixing simple electronic hooks, plenty of synth and a chorus which, it could be argued, is rather understated, “Hail To The Victor” almost flashes back to the ‘Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams’ era of the band, perhaps included to draw that chapter to an undeniable close. The darkest, deepest number on the album comes in the form of “Dawn Will Rise.” With lyrics including “Come and hit me, strike me while I’m down” and “Fortunes fade in time, I must change or die.”, it’s certainly not a track to listen to if you are in a good mood, as its sombre, almost depressing tone, matched by Jared’s almost defeated vocal performance, will soon shatter said mood to pieces.

If there’s any real surprise on the album, it’s Shannon’s Leto’s vocal on “Remedy.” It’s raw and stripped back in comparison to any track that has come before and comes after it. There’s an organic feel to the song, and Shannon’s performance, although different, is so in a phenomenally good way, and he’s no doubt going to find himself requested to play it live.

The chorus of “Oh Oh Oh”, on “Live Like A Dream”, in a nice touch from the band, was recorded at one of their Camp Mars events, and serves as an audible reminder for those who were there of the project they were involved in (though it’s unlikely they knew what it was for at the time) and the fun they had, while for other members of the Echelon, it’s a nice throwback to the ‘This Is War’ era when many of them featured on that album, having participated in ‘summits’ around the world.

“Rider” has so far proved to be quite a strong, albeit new, inclusion to the band’s tour setlist, and with its rising crescendo as the piece nears its end, it’s quite stirring and powerful. Meanwhile, on the deluxe edition of the album, the acoustic, choir-inclusive version of “Walk On Water” might lack the energy of the original, but with the electronics removed, it brings Jared’s genuine vocal ability to the forefront again, and such has been considerably lacking up to this point.

With remixes growing in popularity, it’s not that surprising to find the band have included 2, the first being a R3hab remix of “Walk On Water.” For those who like a more dance-like and continued electro-feel to their songs, it’s not a bad version by any means, but it’s not the best remix ever made either, and the Cheat Codes remix of “Dangerous Night” doesn’t fare that much better.

Despite the new sound and styles with which the band have experimented on this collection, ‘America’ is still at its heart, very much a Thirty Seconds To Mars album, and if the social media reaction is anything to go by, it’s proving a hit with their huge following. Yes there are tracks on the album that don’t quite work as well as they should, like the remixes, but for the majority, lyrically and instrumentally, it’s a considerably solid piece of work that fans hopefully won’t have to wait another five years for in order to hear its follow-up.

REVIEW: FALL OUT BOY PLUS GUESTS – MANCHESTER ARENA 29/03/18 38

Opening for a band as much loved as Fall Out Boy are is never particularly easy, but with considerable flair and a lot of sparkle, opening act MAX, although currently largely unknown to UK music fans, does his best to warm up the fast-filling arena with a set filled with songs that showcase his impressive vocal range and his rather fancy dance moves that could be considered ‘stolen’ from the likes of Michael Jackson. His US smash hit “Lights Down Low” is perhaps the best received song he performs, and as time goes on, the crowd do become more receptive to his calls for them to clap or sing along. Come the end of his set, MAX, with another thank you to everyone who has come out in time to see him, exits the stage to warm, although not considerably loud applause.

Second support Against The Current fare much better and almost bounce their way on stage with an energy that doesn’t let up until the second they leave. There’s an air of Paramore’s Hayley Williams about front-woman Chrissy Costanza and her powerful voice, perhaps showcased best via “Gravity”, easily soars through the air of the vast venue, captivating and entertaining those watching the band on stage. With a new album due out later this year, there are likely to be big things ahead for the trio from Poughkeepsie.

As the lights go down for the third time, a countdown appears on the big screens and as the clock ticks down, the screams and cheers of the now packed arena proceed to get louder and louder, reaching almost ear-piercing volume when Fall Out Boy make their first appearance, and kick things off with “The Phoenix”, complete with on-stage pyro. From there, it’s a case of them blasting out hit after hit, with Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz marching from one side of the stage to the other, working, as they always have, in harmony with one another, and encouraging the crowd to dance and jump.

“Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” results in the venue almost vibrating from the sound of 12,000+ people singing along to the chorus at the top of their voices, while the catwalk that splits the arena floor in two sees plenty of use from all band members aside (obviously) from drummer Andy Hurley, who parade their way down it, instruments or microphone in hand.

Taking a seat at a grand piano, Stump shows off just how good his vocal range is with a performance of “Save Rock and Roll,” during which he covers both his own role in the song as well as that of Elton John. It’s a far cry from the EDM, heavier sound to the song that most fans are used to, but it works, and goes down a treat.

While most performers tend to stick only to playing a main stage, the band then proceed to delight those seated at the back of the arena by appearing on a two-part B stage, which raises the quartet high into the air, putting Patrick and Pete in particular at almost eye level with those ‘up in the gods.’ Renditions of “Dance, Dance” and “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” work the crowd up into a frenzy, and the cheering which follows lasts until the band leave the B-stage and make their way back to the main one.

With the show quickly drawing to a close, the band maintain the high energy momentum they’re so well known for with “I Don’t Care”, soon followed by fan-favourite “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”, while “Church” also makes its live debut. The four song encore which follows a few minutes later begins with “Uma Thurman”, but it’s the middle two tracks, “Thriller” and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” that see the venue once again come alive, shaking with the force of those both in the seats and on the floor singing and dancing along. Closer “Saturday” meanwhile sees Pete get really up close and personal with the fans as, making his way down the catwalk, and laying his bass guitar aside, he reaches out to them as they sing – practically scream – the final few notes, just as confetti explodes from the ceiling all around them.

With such a vast catalogue of hits and an army of dedicated fans, there was little doubt tonight’s Fall Out Boy show was going to be anything less than great, and judging by the grins on the faces of the thousands in attendance as they made their way to the exits, it certainly was just that.