Beast’s comeback is probably one of the most anticipated, if not the most, in recent months. With such expectations behind Beast, there is usually a inclination to make a statement or to try to revive the magic of a previous work. In Beast’s case, the obvious path would be to resurrect Fiction within Hard To Love, How To Love (henceforth known as Hard To Love). Thankfully it remains an empty worry, as like with Midnight Sun, the group avoids this album destroying bullet in their newest release with finesse. The group also, in an interesting move, leaves grandiosity behind to set the modus operandi of Hard To Love in the beauty of moderation.
The only thing that could be considered shocking about Hard To Love is how much of an overt hand Jun-hyung has had in this LP. He’s the main producer and also took to composing a large portion of the album. An impressive feat indeed for an idol, and even more so for maintaining the sound people have come to expect out of Beast. Then again, Jun-hyung has been collaborating with Shinsadong Tiger under-the-radar since the “Shock” days, so it’s expected that his style of composing will fall right within what we’ve come to expect out of Beast, starting right from the intro.
The one minute, twenty-seven second opening piece serves mostly as a tonal prelude to “Shadow,” though it still maintains a distinctive quality that is representative of the whole album: the strong beat, echoing upper line instrumental, and the style of rap presented are motifs that are manifested across the entirety of Hard To Love.
“Shadow” takes those three elements featured in the intro at more or less equal proportions and builds a song whose beauty resides in the transient approach. The soaring and airy upper line colors a basic melody to fit the dark vibe, and the heavier instrumentation gives the rapping adequate backing to build upon. Nicholas does an amazing job of extensively capturing the underlying foundation of what makes “Shadow” the highlight of Hard To Love; it’s well worth the read.
“Hard To Love” has the makings of an attractive mid-tempo ballad, and in many ways the song delivers on its promise. The chorus has a beautiful harmony, but the entire structure of the song sits in this pretty, cohesive, and predictable package. However, its mellow quality is made sour by boring composition, though its reprieve is that the “dull mellow” is conveyed with the tact that only Beast can pull off. Unfortunately, “Hard To Love”’s emphasis on presentation is minimal, which should rather be its glowing focal point. For that reason, it’s ultimately forgettable, relegated to becoming, in effect, a fleeting moment of déjà vu.
The first of two unabashedly fun songs on Hard To Love, is “Be Alright.” The first couple of seconds I unfortunately despised–because the intro rap sounded too much like croaking–but when the melodic part of the song kicked in, “Be Alright” became an extremely fun piece that has a touch of retro and a carefree vibe that is much appreciated in an album that delivers most of its music under a translucent haze of gloom and doom. Even the weird auto-tuned bridge is actually a well received kick for the song which, at that point, starts to sound far too cyclic.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MDaZ8yUcu4]
The pre-release track, “I’m Sorry,” is the moment I feel the subtle elements of Beast’s maturity start to really shine through, though they are ones for those with the patience to use acute senses to pull out to appreciate. The delivery is a bit stilted as most Beast ballads are, and is based on a very basic musical skeleton. But what I find the most interesting about “I’m Sorry” is the uniformity it has when it comes to how lines are delivered. Everyone sings their lines with the same style (often times parallel with the instrumentation), and each line is dropped with only as much affection as needed. It seems easy for me to mention that Beast is stylistically consistent, but it’s actually quite uncommon K-pop, where it’s easy to rely on/become overshadowed by one or two vocalists.
“Will You Be Alright” is actually a weak link in Hard To Love, for not only is it confined within the usual boxes of music, it makes Beast’s vocal weakness as obvious as possible. Some of the falsettos/high-notes are somewhat painful to listen to, not because they’re terribly out of tune, but for the fact that I can hear them straining, and I want to remove them from their misery. I don’t know why “how many high notes you hit” = ”relative singing ability,” but K-pop is notorious for making the equation gospel in idol-dom. Beast sounds great in the mid-range, and they should probably stick to it. If only the ever elusive Force of the K-pop universe will agree with me.
“You are Bad” is horribly repetitious and pulls a little too much from Big Bang circa 2011. I’m not attributing the sound to Big Bang, because they neither hold rights over it nor are they the “inventors” of such a style, but the parallels are a little too hard to miss. There’s certainly a Beast twist on it, but the overall vibe feels like someone trying on someone else’s shoes. The bridge, however, is beautiful so I’ll most certainly give credit where credit is due.
“Encore” (or En-Core!) is totally my guilty pleasure track, with a bold backtrack and easy to follow melody that most certainly sets the right concert mood for an “encore.” Though very safe for a dance track, the song hits all the right notes to get nearly any listener addicted. If there’s a track that I think I could play for eternity, it would be “Encore,” so I’d guess it would be an infinite encore of “Encore.” In any case, while the core sound of “Encore” shows some difficulty fitting within the overarching theme of Hard to Love, it’s an enjoyable final track, though not the means by which I’ll listen to an encore “performance” of the entire album.
The holistic sound of Hard To Love is distinctly Beast (the epitome of clean), even with a new hand at the reins and a couple of new branches sprouting from their musical pathway; but rather than causing stagnation, Beast takes music that has been familiar to them and casts them in new contexts. Songs like “Shadow,” and even “Hard To Love” capture the magic of Beast’s finesse in that avenue. The focus on shedding light on the subtleties within Hard To Love serve as the forward movement in Beast’s repertoire. An artist need not make grand movements to show growth, but they must be substantive enough for the listener to take note. This is certainly the case with Beast.
However, while those minute changes “check off the boxes,” so to speak, and further solidify Beast’s place in the K-pop world’s top tier, it’s not enough to really illicit true maturity from the album. Hard To Love will not define Beast into the future—in its collective, the album is best described as a suspension of one part novel, one-and-a-half parts mundane, and three parts familiar. It’s the perfect ratio to make an album easy to love, but not the right one to make a lasting impression. Beast can most certainly do better.
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