20141121_seoulbeats_got7_yugyeomJYP’s latest boy band GOT7 has been busy promoting in Japan, but they’re back with a full-length album after wrapping up the last of their concert tour in Tokyo earlier this month. The album, entitled Identity, is the group’s first following two mini-albums.

The teasers for the album promised a blast-to-the-past, retro boy band sort of the style. Now that the album has been released, it’s certainly clear that GOT7’s identity has its foundations in vintage style but requires more musical direction to elevate it into a signature sound.

The album kicks off with the title track, “Stop Stop It“. Lyrically, the song is a departure from the cocky bravado of the group’s previous singles, as the boys beg for the girl in question to give them a shot at her heart, singing:

Do you know my heart or not?

Does it always take this long to pick a guy?

You should know by now, why are you being like this?

Am I that different from your ideal type?

While dissimilar in tone, “Stop Stop It” arguably builds upon the storyline established thus far. “Girls Girls Girls” was a statement of swag, if you will, with the boys boasting of their popularity with the female population, whereas “A” sees them pursuing and attempting to woo a singular girl. “Stop Stop It” finds GOT7 stuck in their efforts to seduce this girl — the love interest has perhaps decided to stay as friends or simply cannot be convinced to accept the confession — creating a shift from the group’s confident attitude to something a little more uncertain and increasingly desperate.

20141121_seoulbeats_got7_jbMusically, the sound has not strayed far from the group’s original old-school vibes, but it has lost some of the freshness found in “A” and “Girls Girls Girls”.  The most memorable aspect must be the vocoder present in the chorus and repetition of “hajima”. While the effect certainly gives the song a bit of an edge, it felt unnecessary as JB and Youngjae‘s vocals are rendered unrecognizable, as well as impractical for performances as the boys aren’t able to emulate the sound on stage while singing live. Underneath the flashy effects, the song is nothing special in terms of the tune or lyrics.

As the second song on the album, “Gimme” has essentially the same message as “Stop Stop It” but delivered with drums, twangy electric guitar, and 80s style synth. GOT7 has performed “Gimme” in conjunction with “Stop Stop It” for their comeback stages, but “Gimme” would have arguably made the better title track. Both share lyrical substance and a repetitive chorus, while “Gimme” showcases a more energetic and youthful sound that suits the group’s style more so than the drier mid-tempo “Stop Stop It”.

손이 가” takes a sweeter, lighter tone with an upbeat tempo and a spotlight on vocalists JB, Jr., and Youngjae. The lyrics speak about a girl whose beauty makes the singer want to take her hand. It’s an easy listening sort of song that I’d easily expect to hear floating out of a car, windows rolled down, in the summer time. There are no jarring transitions between each member’s parts as the vocals blend together and often layer upon the next, especially with the “whoa-oh-oh’s” that melt into the raps, making for a smooth song.

The 80s influence is strong, and “너란 Girl” does nothing to disprove this with a continuation of its synthpop sound. If “손이 가” is the summertime road trip sort of song, “너란 Girl” would be a track you’d hear in a roller rink. There’s a nice blend of synthesizer and humming from the vocalists in the pauses between the lyrics, and the “boom boom boom” that dissolves into the rap does manage to recapture the listener in time for Mark’s pared down rap. The song, alternatively titled “Magnetic”, reiterates the singer’s frazzled state as he continues to fall for a girl.

그냥 오늘 밤” gives a chance for the rappers to take the spotlight, as Bam Bam, Mark, and Jackson take turns trading lines about succumbing to a girl’s charms. The resulting raps are definitely indicative of the rapper’s youth, but they use this awareness to deliver a more honest and unabashedly direct message:

Your perfect S line, the more I see it,

the more nervous I get

Fine, I’m obsessed with you, I’ll keep bothering you

I can’t stand the guys who pretend to be nice around you

The lyrics are refreshing in the fact that they are not overly pretentious or full of swagger, but rather declarations of surrender to the girl. Bam Bam’s line in particular points to a shift in identity as he raps, “Only when I’m next to you, become smaller, a naive bad boy,” as this crush causes the singer to question the validity of his image and his worthiness of this love interest. The rappers are serviceable, if not particularly stand-out. While not the focus of the song, the female speech synth of the intro and first chorus had an excellent sound complexity contrasted by the simple piano backing behind the raps.

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The album switches gears as “볼륨을올려줘” (Turn Up the Music) turns uptempo as a dance-pop song. As the title suggests, the song voices the boys’ desires to go crazy on the dance floor and steal a kiss from a pretty lady. Jackson takes a turn as a vocalist on this track, and his voice is pleasingly husky. Beyond that, “Turn Up the Music” sticks with the retro theme but doesn’t really contribute anything new or interesting to the album, serving only to break up the tracklist with a bouncier, generic party tune. The song is wholly unremarkable as far as dance tracks go, failing to make much of an impression within its three minute duration.

그대로있어도돼” is another letdown, being equally unremarkable for different reasons. The song suffers from transitions that could be smoother, as each member’s part feels like an entirely different song from the next member’s. In this way, the melody jumps around and is frustrating to follow. The chorus, as the connecting tread, is a string of sickly-sweet “doo-doo-doos” that do not match the song’s concerned lyrics of hoping to repair a relationship that’s slowly drifting apart.

“달빛” (Moonlight) slows things down as the first ballad of the album, and it’s a welcome relief. The instrumentals are pared down while the simple beat takes the forefront, allowing listeners to focus on each member’s voice. Yugyeom’s softer voice particularly benefited from this treatment, while JB’s stood out as particularly emotive. The pairings between members for certain verses sung, especially JB and Youngjae’s, blended beautifully. The lyrics are about the singer wanting to hide his love interest away from the world to profess to her in solitude. Ballads may not be GOT7’s selling point or signature style, but the softer sound and lack of over-production allow the group to show off the strengths of the singers while creating a more nuanced song without having to fight with the synth or strong backing instrumentals.

She’s a Monster” is the last track, but it’s also quite a lot of other things. Right off the bat, the beat kicks in accompanied by piano and an ambulance siren, and the first verses sung by JB are followed by an actual monster voice effect. On the second chorus, the beat turns decisively dubstep for three seconds before the song reverts back, but with the tempo sped up, before it ultimately slows down to signal the close of the song. Musically, “She’s a Monster” has a multiple identity problem of trying to layer far too many sounds into one song. The melody is quite nice, as is Jr.’s falsetto, but listeners are distracted from both by the excessive over-experimentation of the song. 

20141121_seoulbeats_got7_youngjaeLyrically, the song fits within the album’s narrative but makes less sense as a stand-alone track. The boys sing about a girl who they call a monster, citing her beauty and vowing to sacrifice their hearts to her. Mark’s line, “Yeah, you’re my baby monster,” was slightly cringe-inducing, but the message makes sense when taken in context as the concluding song of the album. The girl’s label of “monster” is more appropriate given that the eight previous tracks have painted a picture of the singer’s heartache and longing for this girl who, deliberately or not, has crushed his cocky character as he confesses, “She has total control over me, I can’t move.”

Also included in the album are the group’s two previous singles, “Girls Girls Girls” and “A”. Ironically, I actually appreciated the two past singles more after hearing them following the new tracks of the album. Although the comparison is slightly uneven when pitting title tracks against album fillers, the composition of “Girls Girls Girls” and “A” feels more polished and cohesive in contrast to much of the tracklist. As a whole, Identity is not particularly standout for GOT7 — however, this does not detract from the fact that the album contains many surprisingly enjoyable tracks worth a listen.

Ultimately, Identity as an album is an exploration of exactly that. While the retro vibe stays as a constant, the album is undoubtedly experimental in song sound and structure. Having released only their first full album, it’s understandable that for GOT7, the primary weakness of the album is a little too much all at once in terms of sound. In this area, the group would do well to practice some restraint and begin to find a musical focus for more cohesive future albums. For now, I’ll hope it’s simply a matter of time. For what it’s worth, there are many good ideas to be found on this album, and Identity delivered in terms of proving the capability of the members to carry through. In addition, the lyrical narrative of the album flows naturally from song to song, creating a cohesive story that also aligns with the concept of establishing identity. The underlying tones of insecurity and longing are ones relevant to growing up, and it’s a step towards maturity mirrored in the lyrics that will hopefully follow through in GOT7’s music.

Overall rating: 3/5

(pop!gasa, YouTube [1] [2], Images via JYP Entertainment)