Trigonometry Pop is here to stay.
In the Lonely Island’s film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Andy Samberg plays Connor4Real, a recording artist who breaks out from a three-piece outfit. Jorma Ticcone plays his former group mate-turned DJ who ends up being forced to wear a comical robot headpiece in the live show to mimic Deadmau5 and other prominent masked EDM artists. It’s a humorous metaphor for how ancillary he’s becoming to Connor4Real’s act. Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, fittingly, cameos in the film as a concert bound hologram, but if he were to force the six other members of his band to don similar headwear, would anyone really notice?
Red Pill Blues, the fifth studio album from the chameleon pop rock chart-toppers, could easily be billed as an Adam Levine solo record, just like every other LP it’s released since 2012’s Overexposed. Did you know there were six other guys in the band? If you did, could you pick them out of a line-up without looking at the goofy, Snapchat influenced cover to this album? If you could, would you still be able to parse out what any of them contributes to a given single, or, like the violin player in Yellowcard, are they just lost in the mix? Kudos to Levine for keeping his boys employed long after anyone else would have jettisoned these ancillary fucks to the curb, but it’s weird to consume a full piece band whose music is formed through pop songwriter committee more than even Rihanna is in 2017.
Its latest is all ‘80s nostalgia, electro-sheen minimalism, the kind of artfully machined simplicity we’ve come to know and expect from modern Top 40 mercantilism. With Levine’s uniquely innocuous vocals and a smattering of synthy instrumentals buoyed by catchy hooks, Maroon 5 makes something that’s not so much music as an algorithm mimicking the impression music is supposed to evoke. Here, it’s blue eyed soul minus the soul and minus the eyes, because anyone with 20/20 vision would see through the awkward bid for “urban radio” relevance with out of place (and awful) features from A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar.
Look, some of the album is quite good. Opener “Best 4 U” is easily its peak. On a track that sounds like The Weeknd covering Hall & Oates, Levine sings to a potential lover whose tastes just aren’t suited to his hard partying ways. He knows what she deserves and knows he can’t provide it. It’s a weirdly touching sentiment made all the more hilarious when it begins to feel like Levine begging longtime fans to read between the lines and seek out more substantive, risk-taking song craft elsewhere. A couple of other jams are hidden in the bonus tracks, such as the somber synth-stomper “Plastic Rose,” but much of this just feels like a bad idea for new music or a great idea for a shopping mall soundtrack.
Seriously, after that pretty impressive opener, Levine and his merry band of studio spinsters rockets listeners off-world until they wake up in a halogen light fueled nightmare, a space station-sized Target on the dark side of the moon. “What Lovers Do” wastes a SZA feature by sanding down the grain of her voice until she sounds like Skylar Grey and a Starrah penned hook by having Levine croon it with all the enthusiasm of a strip mall Santa on his lunch break. Ostensibly, the slick, hypermodern soundscapes aim for sexiness, but then we’re subjected to Levine’s turn with “Lips On You,” a song that makes cunnilingus sound more boring than a three-disc Enya compilation. The only people who could fuck to this album are all replicant extras from Blade Runner 2049.
The sci-fi bent is front and center even from the title, taken from The Matrix, even if it sounds like Levine is making a concept record about Reddit based men’s rights activists. After more than a few cursory spins, you may find yourself wishing the group had delivered an opus about negging and escaping the friend zone. At least it would sound like someone took an actual fucking risk in the studio, instead of executing a meticulously orchestrated math problem.
Albums shouldn’t sound like aural equivalent of rendering a graph on a TI-83, but so long as the paltry gems that bloat Maroon 5’s studio releases keep hitting the Billboard charts, Trigonometry Pop is here to stay.