140228_seoulbeats_2NE1_BomAnd now, the other half of the seemingly forever talked about girl group war of the year – 2NE1.

It seems like 2NE1 is consistently compared with SNSD, and this is understandable given their big-three agency backgrounds. This year, they go head-to-head for the second time, after their first showdown back in 2009 with “Tell Me Your Wish” and “I Don’t Care.” Both singles had their own little moments of glory, and this was especially promising for the then-rookie 2NE1.

Since then, 2NE1 has undoubtedly carved out their own place in the K-pop idol-sphere. Their second year as idols saw them releasing a then-inconceivable three title tracks (“Can’t Nobody,” “Go Away,” and “Clap Your Hands”) for their first full-length album, To Anyone. This was then followed by arguably the crown jewel of 2NE1’s discography, “I Am The Best.” In 2012, when a good portion seemed to think they would release their second full-length album, we instead got one very solid single, “I Love You.”

However, it has been pointed out that since then, there has been a decline in the quality of releases from the quartet, and the forever-promised second album never came to fruition. Instead, we got a trio of lacking releases in 2013: “Falling In Love,” “Do You Love Me?” and  “Missing You.” True, “Missing You” was a promising release, but it was always compared to 2NE1’s previous — and more stellar — lower-tempo releases. This gave a lot of casual 2NE1 listeners, myself included, concern over the powerful quartet. Was YG not giving the group their due? Is he so obsessed over his upcoming anti-SNSD-but-still-as-pretty-as-SNSD-but-they-still-have-swag-so-don’t-worry girl group that he doesn’t see the value in properly promoting 2NE1?

The final nail in the coffin may have been when YG all but summoned this year’s event of the year – SNSD vs. 2NE1. How could a group with disintegrating quality releases go up against the insurmountable 4th wall that is SNSD’s popularity?

Well, don’t worry Blackjacks, because we finally get the 2NE1 of yesteryear, the 2NE1 we’ve been wishing for all of last year. Without going into the specifics, Crush is quality – so quality that I’ve regained trust in YG Entertainment’s production team.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQuph7XqBeY]

“Crush” opens the album and it is one of three CL-produced songs, with lyrical contribution from the fierce leader herself. Play it and one thing will resound in your mind: Thank you CL! I would’ve given anything for this song to be released last year. It’s not just the perfect opening track, it’s almost “I Am The Best” 2.0 – not in sound structure but for the overall feel of the song. How can you not call memories of “I Am the Best” with lyrics such as:

I’m every girl’s hot crush

A rush that makes your heart beat faster

Pretty unnies like me

Because you become prettier if you like me

They love me cuz im hot

They love me cuz im cold

They love me cuz im real

They love me cuz I kill

Not a bad thing considering “I Am The Best” is probably loved throughout the K-pop community. “Crush” is a very, very good introduction to CL-produced tracks. There were hints of influence from “The Baddest Female”, especially at CL’s rap at the start of the second verse. The use of drums with the electronic elements was a nice touch for variation in the song. This may be a signature 2NE1 thing in the near future.

All in all, “Crush” signals a good start to the album and this good start extends to the two title tracks, “Come Back Home” and “Gotta Be You.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA1xblcHxpU]

With “Come Back Home,” its reggae influence is reminiscent of “Falling In Love.” This takes me back to last year’s releases and how I’ve come to think of them as experiments: does a 2NE1 sound like this sell? The YG production team has cleaned up since then to give us some quality title tracks. In fact, “Come Back Home” is a return to Teddy in his prime.

140228_seoulbeats_2NE1_Dara2NE1’s title tracks mostly fall in two categories: the in-your-face, fierce and not to be reckoned with 2NE1 and/or heartbroken 2NE1. This track, as the English lyrics tell us, falls into the latter category. But a “Missing You” it is not. At many times, the song had the potential to fall into a slower tune, but the shifts throughout kept it from going there. An almost-music box like melody reins, and the drums, as well as the MIDI, keep the song interesting. The shift at 1:20 in tune was unexpected but not unwelcome. It doesn’t last long as it reverts to its original form at 1:45. The shifting tunes are not jarring but surprisingly balanced.

The only negative that can be said is the repetitiveness of the lyrics, but for the fact that these lyrics can be said to underline the despair of loss, as is the theme here, it can be overlooked.

Gotta Be You” is the second title track and while I like “Come Back Home” more, this may just have punchier live stages. The chorus is the highlight of the song, the portion where it really picks up. While that may be, the individual elements are also solid. I have small beef with Minzy’s part; she sounds the best when she’s allowed to drawl her words out. The arrangement in the second verse has her part reversed with Dara’s, and it is here that it becomes glaringly obvious that this is a CL-dominated song – not necessarily a bad thing, but I do wish I could’ve heard more of Dara and Minzy.

140228_seoulbeats_2NE1_MinzyAt second listen, the chorus seems like a subdued and mature “Do You Love Me?”, solidifying my belief that the releases from last year were all social experiments from the good people of YG. Just imagine them testing and tweaking those songs to the public’s taste, to produce what has come out of this album.

The fourth track is the second one to come from CL’s hands, production and lyrics-wise. This song is “If I Were You.” The track differs from the first three songs in that it utilizes Minzy’s and Dara’s vocals in a much better way – CL knows the sweet spots of her members’ voices. The piano accompaniment and percussion instrumentals in the background give good contrast to the melody of the ballad, presenting a mood befitting of the slower tempo. The violin goes on to bring out the best of this track..

The imagery that rises out of the lyrics is also surreal; what is heard in the lyrics is highlighted appropriately.

The only one to listen would be me

Along with the burning candle

There’s not much left to my heart

This beautiful house feels like prison

The tactless night sky is so beautiful

With productions like “Crush” and “Gotta Be You,” combined with their entailing lyrics, it’s no wonder that YG has been so impressed. CL seems to have a good ear not just for her members’ strengths, but for the dramatic that does not spill into overdramatic.

The next track is “Good to You,” which continues in the tone set by its predecessor. “Good to You” is a very simple song that could end up being forgettable. Despite that, it does have its own strengths. The laying out of the verses strikes as the most memorable thing that comes with the song; Minzy enters with her vocals hitting all the right notes, and this is followed by Bom, who wows again, and leads into Dara’s sweeter tones. CL is fittingly restrained here, keeping to a few lines in the chorus, before rounding out the song with an excellent rap outro.

An overall clean track, it provides a much needed commercial before we continue on to the intense, borderline aggressive “MTBD,” or “Mental Breakdown,” which is a solo from CL.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8LnzDTaCDk]

In its opening minute alone, the song already presents as a much better showcase of CL’s rap skills, in comparison to her performance in her solo effort, “The Baddest Female.” Not only does it not sound like a G-Dragon rip-off, it shows a better flow in words. And with all that on top of her “Hakuna Matata” line? My Lion King-loving heart is soaring with love for this track. The shift at 2:53 is also pure eargasm. The lyrics being written by CL also makes me hopeful for her future releases.

As the MIDI wears off, what do we hear? Guitars? Is that lightness, much like in “Lonely,” from an acoustic guitar? Dramatic, but you guys get it. This is the first time in a long time we’ve heard such a happy-sounding song from 2NE1. This track is, of course, “Happy.” It’s ultimately a change in sound, ensuring that this album not only has variety but is not oversaturated with dance tracks.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oadzxHIEBtk]

But don’t let the deceivingly light and joyful sounds throw you off because the lyrics are anything but. The juxtaposition of the merry instrumentals and vocals, and the sad lyrics, are delightful.

Every day after I sent you away

In the time I spent alone

I become obsessed now it’s pitiful

If I was a burden

If I was like luggage

You should have left earlier I’m sorry

Does this still sound like a happy song to you?

140228_seoulbeats_2NE1_CLWe then move on to the Korean version of their previous Japanese release, “Scream,” whose lyrics have also been supplied by CL. It’s still as jarring as the original but there is better flow, probably because the quartet are now singing in their native language. Ultimately, it’s a filler track that doesn’t add much to the overall album. The penultimate song of the album, “Baby I Miss You,” is the last of the lot produced by CL. Although it is a clean track — great for live performances — that showcases the vocals of the members, it’s not particularly remarkable, especially coming after all those before it.

The last track is an unplugged version of “Come Back Home” and it does its job as an alternative to their first title track. This version gives a different feel and atmosphere than the original, without losing the mood set by the title track.

At its best, the album resembles a great party playlist; it has everything we’ve come to associate with 2NE1 and more. The best tracks are undoubtedly “Crush,” both versions of “Come Back Home,” “MTBD” and “Happy.” The rest are more of a question of what kind of song you’re in the mood for. In the mood for song to accompany your depressed mood? Then there’s “If I Were You” and “Good To You” for your pleasurable listen. In the mood to dance all your stress away? “Crush” and “MTBD” will be your go-tos. Want a song to play in the car during a particularly long drive? “Scream” and “Happy” would be on the playlist.

This is the album I believe most Blackjacks have been waiting for. It showcases 2NE1 at their best and doesn’t get lost in the mess of all the MIDI. It showcases variety and versatility, and introduces to us the span of CL musical abilities, which is ultimately a move away from relying heavily on Teddy and other producers for their future tracks.

Thus, I’d like to finish this off by saying to you Blackjacks: your long wait has paid off! Congratulations on being presented with a quality album.

My rating? Easily a 4.5/5. What are your thoughts on this? Share it with us below!

(YG Entertainment, YouTube)