Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MBLAQ's BLAQ Style - Hit Or Miss?


MBLAQ has released their first full album!.... aaand that's about as much excitement as I can muster up for it now that I've listened to it. I do have enough energy to complete a review of it, though, so read on!




MBLAQ was my first real k-pop fandom. It started with Joon (yes, I'm shallow that way) and eventually expanded to all the members as I watched all their episodes of Idol Army, and started following fan blogs. I'm not as much of a fan as I was back then, but I still love their explosive performances, and I like the idea of their R&B/hip-hop take on k-pop, so I keep up with them to see if they'll come out with something awesome. Sadly, this album is not what I was hoping for.

"Stay" is their main title track. The first thing I noticed about this song were the crazy synths at the beginning - I just got a pair of kick-ass headphones for Christmas (thanks, fam! :D) and listening to the beginning on them felt like my ears were filling with water. It's an eerie but really cool feeling. Second thing I noticed were the gimmicks - pace changes, repetition, stock pop rhythm. But, as I got to the second verse, I found that I had been sucked into the melody and was singing along. The song is catchy, and very pop, yet manages to retain the slightly dark feel that the video and the instrumental try to convey. Joon and Seungho sound great in the lower octaves - they need to keep them down there and leave the high notes to G.O. I also liked the back and forth between Thunder and Mir towards the end. All in all, a decent title track, though I couldn't shake the feeling that it was missing something. 


As I listened to the rest of the album, I began to notice a pattern: most of the songs start off interesting, but then just fall back into familiar melodies, and I check out very quickly. They set me up for some amazing chorus or middle eight and then fail to deliver. I may have actually fallen asleep while listening to the two ballad tracks in the middle. For a group that put out a decent EP that won them their first chart award last summer, it was really a step down as a whole. A few individual songs stood out:  "버린다" has a nice, sexy electro vibe that's very "FutureSex/LoveSounds" (We miss you, JT! Come back!), and "Rolling U" has a really infectious beat - it's actually only a few steps away from a great title track. Their other title track, "Cry" stands out as well, but only because E-Tribe seriously overdid it with the production, so much so that I don't enjoy listening to it, and it's hard to pay attention to the performers at all. This explains why they decided to go overboard in the video and tried (and failed) to be super angsty and super sexy at the same time. 



And another thing: they need to stop making Thunder sing. He's a decent rapper, and actually complements Mir in a GD/TOP kinda way, while he really doesn't add a lot to the vocals of the group.

What I did like about this album was that they fully embraced an electro-R&B sound which complements MBLAQ's style and vocals, and also differentiates them from BEAST, the other R&B-ish k-pop boyband and their pseudo-rivals since they debuted around the same time (though in my estimation BEAST has put out much better material overall). Straight R&B like "What You Want" might turn out to be better for them, but for now this works. I noticed a growth in Joon's vocal capabilities - more control, more range - which is also good as I think he has potential, and he rounds out the vocals a lot better now. Also, I really liked that Mir got more lines: I think he's one of the better idol group rappers, so I was happy to hear more of him here when he barely had any lines on their last EP.

I don't know if MBLAQ got new people for this album, but if they did, they need to go get new new people. Choreographers, stylists, songwriters - except for that JR dude, he can stay. These guys have already shown us what they can do with good material - someone just needs to give it to them!

6 comments:

  1. I really like Cry, it is melodramatic in an early 90s R&B sort of way. I like my music full of begging, yearning and vulnerability. Plus they finally gave GO the chance to show off his vocals. As for the video Joon in tight white pants = WIN.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @modest-goddess I agree about G.O. getting to shine, and the melodrama, but there was just much melodrama in the instrumental for me. it's possible that the track just wasn't mixed well, but in my opinion E-Tribe was just too heavy-handed with the production. I mean, compare this to the EP he produced for 4men - very vulnerable and melodramatic, but the production was pitch perfect. granted, 4men are more skilled vocalists than MBLAQ, but that doesn't mean he had to overdo it in this case for us to pay attention. They all sound pretty good here - the extra drama wasn't necessary at all.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree with you for the most part. I say for the most part, because "Cry" is my favorite track on BLAQ Style and that's mainly because of E-Tribe's production. Listening to it, I always feel the need to choreograph a piece and dance hard to its over the top, Dru Hill-ish, R&B epicness, something that my unrehearsed and out of shape body has no business doing.

    Unfortunately, I found myself really enjoying the first five tracks on BLAQ Style and then getting bored by the rest of the album. I think that officially makes me 0 for 100 in finding a K-pop album that is "all killer and no filler".*

    Having said that, I love how they are improving by leaps and bounds. I never really liked B2ST's songs, but even I had to admit that their vocals and performance skills were always more polished than those of MBLAQ. That pained me because I am a Rain fangirl and really liked MBLAQ after seeing Art of Seduction and Idol Army. I am so happy that MBLAQ are actually good enough now that I can enjoy them outside of variety shows. I think that even though this album wasn't great as a whole, it shows that those Music Boys Live in Absolute Quality fellas can positively enter the top tier of idoldom and that the hotness that was "Y" wasn't a fluke.

    *I had a lot of hope in 2NE1's album after hearing "It Hurts", but the excessive use of auto-tune gave me a headache.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @MoJo

    I think you've hit on it - I was never a huge fan of Dru Hill, lol. I appreciate "Cry" for what it is, but I can't enjoy it. As for "all killer and no filler", very few k-pop albums are like that - the music makers put more effort into image and promotion as opposed to the music these days. However, a panel of critics recently ranked Tae-yang's HOT as one of the top 100 albums of the 2000s, so maybe try that? I like it a lot. Also, Big Bang's Number 1 album grew on me immensely - it's basically a collection of their best Korean/Japanese songs in English, so it might work for you.

    You're a dancer? That's awesome! I danced for a bit but I'm way out of practice. I'm trying to get back in shape so that I can take some classes - I have issues with my knees.

    *The auto-tune on 2NE1's album was the single thing that prevented that album from being epic. If they drop it for the next one, and keep that level of awesomeness, they might actually turn the world upside down.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I wouldn't call myself a dancer. I used to do cheerleading and dance team in my younger days and I sing, so I had to dance in shows and stuff. However, I'm fairly certain that I kinda sucked. Nowadays, I keep myself sane with tribal belly dance.

    Taeyang's Hot is really good! I saw his first concert (dvd) before I heard the EP and and fell in love with all the tracks. Then again, there were only six of them. Perhaps, Solar could have benefited from cutting a few tracks... I will definitely give Number 1 a listen. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This one is really a personal taste/opinion thingy. Cry is what made me pay attention to MBLAQ! I felt that the music arrangement is rather fresh in my opinion. It's just my favorite song from them. (And... I love R&B.)

    ReplyDelete