Around the start of 2016, as Maroon 5 had started to turn its attention to doing a sixth album, guitarist James Valentine told some interviewers he thought the band might return to a sound along the lines of the band’s 2002 debut album, “Songs About Jane.”
But instead of returning to the old-school organic, guitar-based soul-pop of that album, Maroon 5 made its most modern, synthetic sounding electro-pop-styled release yet with “Red Pill Blues,” the album the band is promoting on its tour coming to Kansas City on Tuesday.
Valentine good-naturedly says he’s learning from speaking a bit too soon.
“That’s my own fault for opening my big mouth,” he said in a phone interview. “I always offered that with a caveat that we never really know what’s going to happen until we get in there and sort of start really fighting (through) the creative process. For us, we’re going to kind of follow it wherever it goes, and any time we’ve tried to make a plan, it never works out. ... There was no sort of grand sort of scheme or anything. It was just ‘OK, these are the songs that we dig right now.’”
Certainly, an album like “Red Pill Blues” made sense for today’s pop music climate. It’s been said plenty of times that rock music is dead and guitars are an endangered species, at least where top 40 pop is concerned.
Music on pop radio is overwhelmingly synthetic, with keyboards, synthesizers and programmed beats the sonic tools of the trade and hip-hop and electronica blending with bigger-the-better pop hooks meant to immediately grab the attention of listeners.
That’s pretty much what Maroon 5 delivered on “Red Pill Blues.”
The group retains the classic songwriting structures and the R&B/soul influence that have always characterized its music. But the R&B influence is more modern on “Red Pill Blues,” and a hip-hop feel figures strongly into songs like “Best 4 U,” “Wait” and “Who I Am,” while the element of classic pop-rock that always ran through the band’s music is less pronounced.
In addition, “Red Pill Blues” finds the group dialing back on its tempos and putting more of an electronic sheen on many of the songs.
Valentine acknowledges the contrasts between “Red Pill Blues” and the previous Maroon 5 albums, but feels the album isn’t that big of a musical departure.
“It’s definitely a little more chill,” he said. “I do think it sounds a little more mature. There was a frenetic sort of energy to a lot of our earlier stuff, so the tempos are little more laid back and the beats are more hip-hop influenced.
“But I think in our overall like catalog, I think in all of our records there’s a through line, which is there’s a soul and R&B influence and then the sort of classic songwriting approach. I think this record still contains that.”
Like many acts that appear on the pop charts these days, Maroon 5 has shifted away from keeping songwriting within the band, beginning with the 2012 album, “Overexposed.” Instead, lead singer Adam Levine has done what Pat Monahan of Train, John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls and numerous solo artists have done and looked to work with outside songwriters with histories of writing hit singles to help craft Maroon 5’s songs..
Valentine, who had co-writing credits on nearly a dozen songs over the first four albums, said he and the other members of the Los Angeles-based band (guitarist/keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden, drummer Matt Flynn, multi-instrumentalist Sam Farrar and keyboardist PJ Morton) had to check their egos and adjust to the idea of Levine working with other songwriters.
But Valentine supports the move.
“I think there was a feeling we needed some new blood, some new ideas, otherwise we were going to make the same record over and over again,” Valentine said. “And I think it was, over the years, having worked together exclusively for over a decade, I think for Adam, working with some of these outside writers and kind of discovering that you could do that was a little bit liberating for him creatively.”
What has also helped Maroon 5 to remain a big presence in the pop world has been Levine’s role since 2011 as a judge and coach on the hit television show “The Voice.” It’s made Levine far more famous than his bandmates, but Valentine isn’t complaining, saying having Levine on national TV has greatly benefited the band as a whole.
“I think it’s been huge,” Valentine said. “I think him going into this show, we already had a pretty established career. We had a pretty good catalog of songs. But I think most people, they might have been familiar with some of the songs, but they didn’t really have a face for the band. And so when Adam came on the show, they’re like ‘Oh, he did that song.’”
The band as a whole also has been able to get into the act on occasion on “The Voice.”
“That’s where we played ‘Moves Like Jagger’ for the first time,” Valentine said. “That changed everything for us. Then all the subsequent singles, we were able to use ‘The Voice’ as the platform to launch all of the songs.
“We used to crisscross around the country, running from radio station to radio station and TV show to TV show, to be like ‘Hey, listen to this song.’ And ‘The Voice’ has done so well, it’s such a huge audience that it was the perfect place to do that.”
Maroon 5, though, still is happy to crisscross the country as a touring band. Valentine said fans can expect to hear the songs they know, although the long list of Maroon 5’s hit singles means the band has to leave some songs off the set list.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Valentine said. “It’s great because you could come in off of the street and not really care that much about Maroon 5 and you could still be familiar with most of the songs we play because we’ve been around long enough and we’ve been lucky enough to have a few hits. But it’s challenging for the more hardcore fans who want to hear more of the obscure tracks. We don’t have the time to fit them all in.
“But,” he said, “I think we’ve struck the right balance with the songs we’ll be playing.”
Maroon 5 and Julia Michaels come to the Sprint Center at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11. SprintCenter.com or 888-929-7849.