We must go back in time, not to 2012, when we launched this blog – but to 2004.
Mamamoo’s last four minis – including this one, White Wind – is part of a sprawling concept: four releases highlighting, but not really highlighting, its four members. It ultimately saw the group grapple with the need to transition to a more mature image, after establishing themselves as purveyors of a retro pop sound, and finding themselves with a reputation for hyperactive personalities and a more nuanced musical sensibility. Of course, an initiative that broad wouldn’t always go well: we got some shining moments (and a big glimmer of hope in the third release, the wonderfully consistent Blue;S) and a lot of filler. I’ll admit to this album raising my hopes both because its immediate predecessor seems to have found its mojo back, and also because it’s the album designated to my bias, Wheein. (“25” is a song she co-wrote.) Alas, this record went the way of Red Moon: muffled and mumbled, not really knowing where to go. Single “Gogobebe” is the group’s most forgettable ever, and I do not say that lightly. It ends up just swallowing that modern pop template without going the extra mile; it’s no “Egotistic”, but it surprisingly reminded me of SoRi’s “I’m Ready”, and that, to me, is a worry. The rest of the songs also stumble, although “Waggy”, the designated crazy song of the album, surprisingly sounds sinister, and better for it. But maybe this is me suffering from Mamamoo fatigue: four albums in a little over a year is a feat not even Red Velvet attempted. Well, that worked out for them in some roundabout way. I’m not sure Mamamoo – or us MooMoos – come out of this with a better understanding of where they’re headed. All I know is, I hope the girls get their rest. [NB] | 2/5
I’ve long accepted that Mamamoo won’t return to the retro-flavored sound that established them years ago, but their recent releases have been frustrating. In their pursuit of pop trends, their last couple of releases – part of a four-mini project that was supposed to run the whole year – have seen their members’ talents a bit squandered, bearing the weight of the visual concept. (Red Moon, I am looking at you with disappointment.) Now comes Blue;S, the third installment in said project, and it’s… encouraging? It’s definitely the most consistent album they’ve released since Melting, although only one of its tracks – the single “Wind Flower” – gets close to channeling that full-length’s retro charms. The mini does not attempt to shake off Mamamoo’s newfound preference for the epic, but it does tone it down a bit; the mini actually sounds wispy. But the group (and the producers behind them) smartly take a step back and bring the focus back on the vocals, the very thing that got them recognized better than most. Oh, the harmonies. I have missed them. It no longer sounds like they’re showing off at each other’s expense, but rather, working together. This moment may not last, but it’s a comforting one nonetheless. [NB] | 4/5
Has Mamamoo gone too hot? The transformation isn’t really a surprise. Red Moon is designed to be a continuation of the template they set with Yellow Flower: a more mature sound and image, highlighting the individual charms (to use K-pop parlance) of its four members. When that album came out I felt that they’ve succeeded, at the expense of making them feel like “hazy figures from a distance” – a bit dramatic, but then, I am a fan. That makes me a bit more frustrated for Red Moon. Sure, a part of it is whiplash from the “Egotistic” music video, which is really the same as “Starry Night” but with the visuals and concept turned up to 11 – it felt like a pastiche. Remove that, and the song is all right: serviceable, not exactly memorable. The rest of the album is the same, with the exception of “Sky Sky”, which sees the group actually take the innocent, pure route taken by the likes of APink and GFriend – and which somehow works, thanks to Wheein being really versatile vocally. On the other hand, “Sleep in the Car” – a live fan favorite – appears in the mini seemingly to walk back on the whole inaccessible criticism I made, as if I have enough sway. But the result is your typically inconsistent K-pop album, which is a shame, because its predecessor wasn’t. Or maybe the whole individual charms thing has been overwhelming. [NB] | 3/5
Mamamoo’s first full-length album, Melting, remains their peak. That was a tight, well-defined record, playing to the South Korean girl group’s strengths more. The two records they released after, Memory and Purple, suffered both from high expectations and a musical case of channel drift: good singles brought down a notch by badly-timed experiments or mediocre filler (of which there has been a lot). It is an understandable phase in a pop group’s life, the need for reinvention, but the dithering proved to be frustrating. With Yellow Flower they finally hit the reset button, taking the “mature” route head-on with a tasty mix of R&B and electronica, and an even stronger emphasis on their vocal chops. (Moonbyul singing last time is most definitely not a fluke; you don’t even notice her rap here, although she sort of does in single “Starry Night”, albeit in her breathy, sultry mode.) I’m relieved that this album is at least consistent. The shift in sound may not be to everybody’s taste – a part of me felt they were ditching their beagle image – but at least it feels more well-defined, more deliberate. (And it does not sound like they’re playing catch-up to Red Velvet and their slick R&B leanings, also someone will make that case.) The warm, friendly tone works nicely, the message delivered clearly: the girls are up there now, past the growing pains, making it out stronger and fiercer than ever. Yellow Flower also tells me they are now just hazy figures from a distance. [NB] | 3/5