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Album review: BLACKPINK adopts sounds of past but fails to reimagine or modernize

(Courtesy of YG Entertainment)

“THE ALBUM”

BLACKPINK

YG Entertainment

Released Oct. 2

By Tara Oldenburg

Oct. 2, 2020 2:52 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 4 at 9:34 p.m.

BLACKPINK is going back to the past – or maybe it never even left.

“THE ALBUM,” aptly named for the group’s first full-length album despite four years in the music industry, is a packed 24 minutes. And while the eight tracks provide a decidedly dense and energetic auditory experience, “THE ALBUM” sonically parallels those pop albums of the early 2010s so closely that it adopts the same strengths and shortcomings in the end. Despite these callbacks to the past, BLACKPINK still manages to introduce lyrical diversity and vulnerability for the first time in its short history.

Opening with “How You Like That,” the song confidently prolongs the momentum that previous BLACKPINK singles have slowly built. Intricately woven into the EDM track comes a story of heartbreak and subsequent hopeful revenge. The track successfully meets the high expectations that fans have set for the group, racking up over 560 million views on YouTube since its release in June.

But the boldness of “How You Like That” is short-lived as it sloppily fades into “Ice Cream.” Featuring Selena Gomez, the track’s light bass highlights the vocals of the five women, leaving little instrumental depth to cover up heavily auto-tuned melodies and off-key high notes. The minimal backing track that features a light trap beat serves only to unsettle listeners with its off-kilter sound effects.

[Related: Concert review: Despite some hiccups, BLACKPINK’s performance proves K-pop’s global appeal]

Yet, like whiplash, BLACKPINK manages to snatch back the reins on “THE ALBUM” with “Pretty Savage,” which lyrically depicts the confidence and musical prowess of the band. The singers “you can’t manage” pair intimidating timbre with a minor key piano melody and high-pitched sighs. “Pretty Savage’s” confident verses are then balanced by a 2014-esque pre-chorus ballad and bridge that expertly build tension, highlighting the best of the previous decade’s trend.

However “THE ALBUM’s” second feature, with Cardi B, closely mirrors its earlier track, “Ice Cream,” to an unfortunate degree. It seems that the group may have been better off leaving collaborations behind as “Bet You Wanna” repetitively relies on acoustic guitar and bass-less verses that boast the thrill of a romantic chase. The track is reminiscent of early 2010s stripped-back, pop tracks with auto-tuned vocals, and does little to reimagine this dated sonic experience.

Fortunately, “Lovesick Girls” and “Crazy Over You” manage to redeem the weaker collaborations on the album with completely opposing sonic experiences. While “Lovesick Girls” is a summery ballad that sounds distinctly different from BLACKPINK’s earlier synth EDM singles, the following track strikes a balance between the ballad and the brass-heavy tracks before it.

“Crazy Over you,” in classic BLACKPINK lyrical style, warns potential lovers that they have the “venom to dead him if he wants a snake.” With a myriad of ad-libs, EDM sound effects and clear South Asian musical influences, the track represents a more futuristic BLACKPINK that finally releases the vestiges of their obsession with the pop music of the past.

[Related: Album review: BTS spans genres in introspective release but fails to maintain quality throughout]

“THE ALBUM” concludes with a soft ballad, which is unexpected from the typically brazen group, and highlights the emotional volatility of a musical group constantly in the spotlight. Unlike the songs before it, the track is lyrically vulnerable and pleads for empathy from listeners as they’ll “never know unless you walk in my shoes.” While the song doesn’t stand out sonically amongst the extreme highs and lows of previous tracks, BLACKPINK introduces a level of emotional sensitivity never seen in the group before.

Although just the first full-length album released by the group, “THE ALBUM” has managed to conserve BLACKPINK’s original sound, even those parts that are sonically dated. The group expertly plucks structure, ballads and brass from the early past, but at times fails to innovate these trends enough to modernize its sound. Consequently, “THE ALBUM’s” frequent callbacks to the recent musical past has created a time capsule for the pop music of the previous decade.

But unfortunately, it’s a fine line between retro and dated.

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Tara Oldenburg
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