Although U-KISS are still taking a break from their “Standing Still” promotions, it’s not like the boys haven’t been busy. AJ and Eli have both caught the sub-unit fever plaguing K-pop today, and after expressing their desire to work as a unit group, the two have comeback as uBeat, featuring Kevin as a guest vocalist! I can’t say that this would be my first choice for a U-KISS sub-unit, but considering how AJ and Eli both specifically proposed this sub-unit to their company, well… who’s to say no? Not Brave Brothers, who’re the main producers of this album, and U-KISS’s main producer before they jumped boat to Ryan Jhun.
So do uBeat and Brave Brothers offer up something fresh and exciting on this mini-album?
Not a chance.
Nothing on this mini-album is particularly offensive per say, especially compared to the gritty and grating tunes Brave Brothers composed for them earlier in their careers. But given the calibre of U-KISS’ recent promotional material, it’s blatantly lacklustre. The “Intro” sums it all up — it’s your typical pleasant listen. A sweet walk in the park kind of track. In fact, you’d probably find a thirty-second sample of it under the name “Sweet Walk” as a preloaded sound on a Motorola Flip Phone from 2006. Unfortunately, the same sentiments could probably be held about most of the new tracks on this mini-album.
Take the title track for example, “Should Have Treated You Better”. It could very well have had its pitch shifted up a few notches and then be stuck on the B-Side of one of SISTAR‘s mini-albums. It’s a standard cute and light-hearted composition, with Kevin chirping the chorus with the typical whistles floating airily among the song. It’s extraordinarily flat, there are no particular nuances to it, and not even the sparse rap verses add kick. With a distinctive lack of impactful ambience to stir your insides, it’s a song I’m constantly forcing myself to shift my attention to, over delegating it as mere background noise.
After seeing how far U-KISS has come as a group, it seems like a great regression for uBeat to make their début with such a redundant sound. But this is precisely the dangers of working with Brave Brothers. His ineptitude as a producer has been discussed ad naseum, but simply for the sake of reiterating it. Brave Brothers and co, do not know how to work with their artists. Instead, they force them to fit into cookie cutter molds before dousing them in generic production. Heck, it didn’t even seem like Brave Brothers had put in much effort in this production. It’s doubtful that he didn’t just get a call from NH Media that prompted him to pull out a song that was rejected as Teen Top‘s title track. Eli, AJ and Kevin didn’t stand a chance.
Speaking of Kevin, although he’s delegated a “featuring” vocalist, he’s stamped all over this mini-album — to the point where he might as well have been part of the sub-group itself. His excessive (?) presence in the context of the entire production for uBeat would’ve been less of an issue had he been recognised as an official member. But over-saturating a featured guest pretty much beckons towards the main artists inability to solidly hold a song up by themselves. I’ve never thought of AJ or Eli as being particularly great rappers, at all, but it’s a bit ridiculous that a subgroup consisting of the two of them should still be dominated by Kevin.
Look, Kevin is a really good singer and a stable live performer, and he brings a lot to U-KISS as a group — so it makes sense for him to be given a fair bit of limelight in comparison to half his bandmates who bring little to nothing, musical-wise. But even in U-KISS’ own songs, NH Media relies on him so heavily to the point where the weight he carries is arguably a lot more than he’s actually worth. To have this transfer over to a sub-group, that the guy isn’t even technically part of, seems a tad un-classy. Kevin brings a lot to all these songs, and the title track would be considerably worse had he not been in it, but that’s the problem. I’m not sure whether NH Media or Brave Brothers is to blame for this. Sure, Brave Brothers may pigeon-hole the acts he works with, but he knows how to build around the skillset he’s given. I’d love to see how he’d approach a song focusing on just working with primarily AJ and Eli. Unfortunately, what we’re left with is once again… a Kevin show.
The only other uBeat original track on this mini-album — “Its Been a Long Time” — isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s definitely pretty. Perhaps, it sticks out only in comparison to the title track, but as a B-Side song, it does its job. It’s mellow and self-effacing in its delivery, and the chorus rings. Although I’d like to have taken away more from this album — more than its “pretty” parts — this song seems to be the best thing from it.
The rest of the mini comprises a few songs off Collage, some remixed, some (for whatever reason) left as they were. It’s interesting to note that a few of the songs, such as “Missing You”, didn’t gel well with the “Collage” album, but fit in nicely and even serve as highlights on this mini-album. With “Missing You’s” bubbly and atmospheric melody — although slightly lost in “Collage” — it complements “Should Have Treated You Better”, “It’s Been a Long Time”, and “Can’t Breathe”.
On the other hand, although the acoustic remix of “Standing Still” sounds as epic as the original, and carries an intensity that wasn’t as evident with a fuller instrumental, it sounds too epic amongst the rest of the frothy pop songs littered in the album.
All in all, this album is disappointing. The purpose of a sub-unit to me has always been to offer something that the main group itself couldn’t. Sub-units would suffice if lead vocalists are given a reprieve from singing songs dumbed down for the rest of their band, if dancers and rappers are granted opportunities beyond their 15 second verbal spitting and dance breaks, and if a member is allowed the chance to explore a genre more suited to him/her. uBeat offers nothing that U-KISS itself can’t/couldn’t do, and it offers nothing to us consumers. AJ and Eli don’t shine here at all, if anything they’re playing second fiddle to Kevin.
In retrospect, Brave Brothers going back to the garish and gravelly production style he had for U-KISS’s early work, would have been several steps up from the platter we’re presented with on this mini-album. As abrasive as the group’s old songs are, they are biting and undoubtedly impactful; they reflect a distinct, U-KISS sound over all the autotune-masked vocals.
Before coming into reviewing this album, I couldn’t really think of any reason why AJ and Eli (feat. Kevin) should have a sub-unit beyond linguistic reasons. And after listening to the mini-album straight through, my beliefs are cemented. There’s no reason whatsoever for uBeat to exist. Harsh? Yes. This mini-album has truly failed to prove otherwise.
Highlights: Standing Still (Remix), Can’t Breathe, It’s Been a Long Time
Worst Song: Should Have Treated You Better
Anyone out there agreeing with this? Or perhaps, violently objecting to it? Drop us a comment below!
(NH Media, YouTube)