20150611_seoulbeats_MBLAQ_mirrorFollowing the loss of two of its core members, MBLAQ has returned, this time as a trio. Fans have been waiting with bated breath to see if this latest permutation of MBLAQ — consisting of the vocal power of G.O, the solid tenor and leadership of Seungho, and the steady rap of Mir — could deliver the same musical quality while being two members light. The answer is a resounding yes.

The album starts on a beautifully constructed piece of piano melody. We open with what sounds like a projector showing a film, the tape clacking and catching on the spool. A small voice sighs through the melody, melding almost perfectly with the surrounding instrumentation. Then the song ends on the sound of a heart monitor, beeping the refrain of someone being revived, thus “Resurrection”: a reawakening, being brought back to the mortal coil as a different being altogether. The introduction and its title are apt, and if rumor holds true is a perfect lead-in to the title track.

The moment to prove the remaining members could hold their own came with their first single, and did these men ever deliver. The heartache and power in the vocals is stunning, the crescendo of the chorus rings out, touching a nerve in the listener that leaves you emotionally open and susceptible to anything these three men have to offer. Lyrically, the song points an accusatory finger at a lover who’s left without reason or even words of farewell. Our protagonist goes about his life as if nothing’s wrong, portraying to the world around him a facade of happiness that he ultimately doesn’t feel. He expresses an anger and hurt that isn’t easily erased with soothing words.

In front of the mirror, do you see yourself?
Even if you pretend nothing’s wrong, you’ll think of it
I cared for you more than anyone else
It hurts so much, what do I do? No

The men of MBLAQ have admitted at least in some small part the hurt and outright betrayal portrayed are a direct message to former members Lee Joon and Thunder. This is not uncommon in K-pop — former members leaving and the remaining members lashing out, airing their frustrations in their lyrics, or more bluntly in public appearances.

However, I have my doubts about the accuracy of the notion Seungho, G.O, and Mir had a bone to pick with their brothers. Not only was everyone given forewarning about their impending exodus from the group, their contracts expired before they decided to split. Though that doesn’t necessarily suggest they would leave, they most certainly could, and signs were pointing in that direction for at least a year before they actually made their exit. The lyrics suggest there’s still bad blood sluicing in the remaining members’ veins:

I’m so busy, so much work to do
I have no time to think about you
I took off all the dirty clothes
Finally I know what’s me
I’m finally starting a bright tomorrow
You be careful too, I hear you talk about me
Stop with your fake attitude
You always lied to me and then you left me
So you probably wanna come back to me
But now I don’t need you

The song pulls no punches, the lyrics going straight for sore spots, the barbs meant to do damage to whomever their directed. If indeed the boys feel raw about the hand they were dealt with the departure of two of their members, the lyrics in “Mirror” most certainly allow them to scream out their frustrations in the one way they know they can with as much honesty as they can muster. Regardless of the intent or to whom it’s directed, the title track is the most emotional song on the mini, the vocals being at their fullest and most emotionally delicate. One doesn’t muster that kind of emotion without there being a story behind it. So take from it what you will.  The men have certainly left it up for speculation.

As its title suggests, “Everyday” illustrates the everyday humdrum of existence, a walk in the market, the sounds of people living their lives. Considering the song preceding, it seems an apt progression. Our protagonist lets the sounds of life moving on surround him, thus influencing him to do the same. This leads into track “Hey U.” Following the same guitar foundation as the interlude preceding it, the song is light and playful. However, the lyrics hint at someone who’s actually disillusioned with love. He’d rather spend the time alone, especially given he doesn’t foresee anyone wanting him in the first place:

It’s so comfortable
Don’t have to wash every day.
Don’t have to think about anniversaries.
I’m busy living life by myself.
Do you really think I need a girlfriend?”

But if you’re really paying attention, you know anyone who has such sentiments harbors more than a little bit of bitterness when it comes right down to it. At the very least song “I Know U Want Me” and its interlude “Eyes On You” — a sensual snippet of R&B — show our protagonist is ready to get back out on the playing field, if only for a night where he doesn’t have to be alone:

You keep stealing glances at me (just come to me).
I can see it in your face.
You’re feeling it now.
I need you here (I need you here).
I do anything for you.

It’s a standard pop tune, nothing out of the ordinary for an idol group, and its subject matter certainly isn’t groundbreaking. It’s a bit of a disappointment sonically when you consider the interlude, a piece of smoky R&B that had the listener expecting something equally flirtatious. But it’s not a bad tune and slots in just about where you’d expect a mid-tempo dance song on a mini-album.

One thing that strikes me about this comeback is the use of interludes between each song. Though many may feel it’s taking an easy way out — in all, the EP actually only consists of four songs — the interludes seem to be moments of reflection, as if collecting ones thoughts before really letting out the emotions pent-up inside. They’re a deep breath before the expulsion of a contemplated scream, if you will. “Four Seasons, 24 Hours” is a gorgeous piece of music. The melody carries all the emotion of the song that follows, a piece of piano magic that’s as pretty as the emotions are raw, the perfect segue into “Tree.”

20150611_seoulbeats_mblaq_mirror3The song brings us back to the sentimentality that opened the mini. All the posturing of the previous two tracks — at first not even wanting to be in a relationship, then donning the bravado of the classic playboy — is quickly swept away in the emotion of the album’s closing number.

At first our protagonist wonders at the sudden fall of tears. He then declares he’ll be the immovable tree, the steadfast force in his lover’s life that will always shade her from the world and wipe her tears away as the wind that blows across her face: “Even when the strong winds blow, like a tree, I’ll stay at the same place, even if it’s hard. If your heart is hurting, I’ll be your shade. Will you lean on me, until always?” The song is pretty, as is its interlude. Another standard track that doesn’t ask much of the two remaining vocalists, but does its job on the album.

There’s a different flavor to this mini than we’ve seen with prior MBLAQ albums, but one should expect that. It’s a slightly new lineup, and with it comes a new outlook on how the group should function musically. While the lead single and title track most certainly plays on the emotional largeness of G.O and Seungho’s vocals and the pop and snarl of Mir’s rap performance, the rest of the album offers fans more laid-back pop, music that’s focused on simple constructions while still highlighting the group’s teamwork, an aspect of MBLAQ that hasn’t been lost in the recalibration of the group’s dynamic. Mirror is a commendable comeback effort, nothing exceptionally astounding, but a testament to the solidarity the group has maintained and their determination to continue their impressive run of solid pop music.

Overall Rating: 3.75/5

(Photos via J.Tune Camp Facebook, pop!gasa, YouTube)