CLC is back with their fifth mini-album, Crystyle, and a whole new concept — one that is oddly reminiscent of their now-disbanded senior sister girl group, 4Minute.

The Cube Entertainment girl group first made its debut in 2015 as a five-member group, and each subsequent comeback had seen the group move progressively towards increasingly cutesy styles. In 2016, two new members — Eunbin and Elkie — were added to the group, and a year later, it was announced that the seven-member girl group would undergo an image and concept overhaul with this latest comeback. While it is true that 4Minute did not own the bad girl image, it is curious that CLC’s image change comes close on the tails of 4Minute’s disbandment; and given that both groups were and are under Cube Entertainment respectively, the resemblance is undeniable.

Crystyle begins strong, capturing listeners’ attention with “Liar”. This first track immediately clues us in on CLC’s revamped image with a heavy reliance on electronics, and a darker, more mature ambience in general — a marked departure from the group’s previous tracks which featured much more cheerful and upbeat tunes.

However, while the melody is very catchy and serves as the perfect opening hook to the album, the most attractive feature of this track is its lyrics. Contrary to what the title seems to imply, “Liar” is written in a roundabout manner, focusing on how the girls of CLC refuse to believe that a relationship has ended, and they implore their ex-lovers to admit that the break-up was a lie. The melody and arrangement of the song give off the impression of  a rather lackadaisical, almost arrogant, protagonist, but this attitude is belied by insecurities made apparent in the lyrics. It is in the juxtaposition of these two elements that the song blossoms and attains its full splendour — the tension and contradiction evident in the production a reflection of the song’s crux.

What’s this? You called me here

And now you’re putting up this crappy act

What you say is all fake

You weren’t serious when you said we’re breaking up, right?

“Hobgoblin” continues in the same vein as “Liar”, taking things up a notch with stronger lyrics, stronger beats, and even stronger electronic influences. Perhaps because Hyuna had a hand in penning the lyrics, the 4Minute resemblance is particularly apparent in “Hobgoblin”. In particular, the chorus follows style of their seniors’ later songs such as “Crazy” and “Hate”; listeners’ attention is drawn towards the beat rather than the melody, and the lyrics are mostly repeated short phrases that are either rapped or half-sung.

“Mistake” and “Meow Meow” follow “Hobgoblin”, the former a song about wanting more than a platonic relationship, and the latter a suggestive track about an amorous relationship. At this point, however, we are more than halfway through the album, and the songs have all been of the same beat-centred mold, thus failing to contribute much to the trajectory of the audience’s auditory journey. The album is beginning to sound repetitive, blending into one long, boring, and endless song.

And after four songs that have failed to distinguish themselves from one another, “I Mean”, again, fails to provide any relief. Although slightly slower in tempo and gentler on the electronic front, it continues to employ a similar song structure, a similar beat, and a similar tone of voice — the girls sound the same in all the songs.

Finally, the album wraps up with “Tears Bottle”, which is, thankfully, a ballad. Or at least it tries to be one. Employing the piano and the acoustic guitar, this last track mellows out as the album winds down; but still, it refuses to let go of its synthesizers. While it is common for ballads to make use of the synthesizer as the song builds up towards the climax, “Tears Bottle” hits its full instrumental range right after the first verse, leaving little room for the song to grow. This choice of arrangement is disappointing, and this is particularly so because the melody was really quite sweet, and had the potential to be much more, had it been produced more satisfactorily.

It is a shame, really, that the album unfolded in this manner. When listened to individually, all six songs are not bad; but when put together, the album falls flat. The main intent of this comeback had been to announce CLC’s brand new concept, but it was, unfortunately, executed rather poorly.

In a bid to assert CLC’s new bad girl image, Crystyle comprised a very limited selection of songs that not only failed to keep its audience engaged, but also failed to showcase CLC’s vocal prowess. Even “Tears Bottle”, which should have allowed the girls to demonstrate at least some breadth and depth in emotion and ability, failed to deliver. The most notable progress in skill seems to be Yeeun‘s ability to sound uncannily like Hyuna, bringing us back to the comparison between CLC and 4Minute.

Of course, this album is not without its strengths. As previously mentioned, “Liar” is quite a cleverly produced song, and the girls of CLC must also be credited for their effort and adeptness in pulling off this brand new concept rather competently. It is just huge pity that mistakes made in terms of song selection and album pacing, as well as the untimeliness of this image change, have pulled the spotlight away from the redeeming factors aforementioned. Instead of having made a bold declaration of their brand new identity, CLC is now seen, rather, as the younger, less experienced, and perhaps inferior version of 4Minute. It was a massive management and artistic directional mistake on the part of Cube Entertainment.

Perhaps the only way forward now, is for CLC to somehow — difficult as it might be — develop a unique identity that sets them apart from 4Minute. And to that end, the first step might just be to stop any and all of Hyuna’s influences on CLC’s music. There is nothing wrong with Hyuna’s style — but Hyuna is Hyuna, and CLC really needs to find their own niche area. Being known as the Little 4Minute, or Little Hyunas, is not likely to get them anywhere.

Rating: 1.75/5

(Lyrics via YouTube; Images via Cube Entertainment)