A little goes a long way in the case of f(x). All SM had to do was show some care in the music they produced for their beta girl group, and they have become a hit among international fans. In 2011, their debut full album made Worst of lists for the year; but twelve months later they came out with the stellar mini-album Electric Shock, with solid follow-up Pink Tape dropping another year after.
The anticipation was high when f(x)’s comeback was announced, and news of a consecutive full album appeared like a very good sign of SM’s growing investment in the girls’ music. Rather than continue where they left off with Pink Tape, Red Light goes for a more mature sound; if the former is like a blazing summer day, then the latter is the lazy summer eve that comes after.
When SNSD‘s “I Got A Boy” came out, there were claims that it sounded and looked more suited to f(x). And now, f(x) have their own “IGAB” in the form of title track “Red Light.” The song works to bring f(x)’s counterculture image to the fore with its lyrics while also fine-tuning the characteristic elements of f(x) songs: the talk-singing the group is known for works a treat here. This is thanks to the nature of the demo of the same name from which SM created this track.
However, this is not one which works within a conventional song structure. The demo has an unconvincing chorus, which f(x) does fix with a harder beat; but, while the transitions here are better than “IGAB”‘s for having more effort put into them, they are still jarring to the ear, especially upon first listen. Once the breakdown arrives, the attempt at cohesion becomes more apparent; still, it takes some getting used to.
Once the last “Red Light” is uttered, we have a string of veritable jams. “Milk” sounds undeniably filmi with its sultry percussion and evocative cooing. If I closed my eyes, I could see the newest starlet in -ollywood shimmying to this in a low key item number set in a village barn that also doubles as a gangster hideout. Teddy Riley brings the goods once again, though it’s a shame that we see him shine in the B-sides more than the promotional track itself. If SM’s meddling has anything to do with that problem, then they frankly need to stop.
Meanwhile, “Butterfly” is deliciously languid, the bright tone of the lyrics tempered by the down-tempo beat and sinister synths. And “Rainbow” is a song that would not be out of place on Western air waves, making the mix of up- and down-tempo beats sound effortless to follow, unlike in “Red Light.” This is a perfect summer song, equal parts party anthem and laid-back tune, and while I love “Milk,” this song has my official vote for “B-side That Should Have Been The Title Song.”
Like Lo, if there’s ever a concept I want f(x) to try their hand at, it’s disco: and “All Night,” another song to experience the Riley touch, is to blame for that. Though it is difficult to see how the group could make this style work for the direction in which their image is going, there is something tantalising about how f(x) sounds whenever they attempt this genre; “Signal” from Pink Tape was one of that album’s gems, and the same can be said here for “All Night” and Red Light.
“Vacance”‘s electric guitars accompany falsettos as the girls enjoy a French holiday; it’s sunny, fun, and just the song for summer. “Vacance” is a very catchy song, its pronounced beat a refreshing break from the smooth flow of the previous tracks.
“Spit It Out” brings Red Light close to Electric Shock, though the sparse instrumentation and slower tempo keeps the song characteristic of the album it’s in. The electronica instrumentation is the hero here, but I have to give special mention to the lyrics: the metaphor of love being edible and asking the person who doesn’t appreciate their love to “spit it out” is an amazingly aggressive message to be hearing. Rather than moping around, f(x) issues an ultimatum with confidence.
“Boom Bang Boom” starts off sounding as though it could have almost, almost, been on a M.I.A album, but the girls’ signature sugary vocals and sing-song melody help make it f(x)’s own. As Krystal says at the end, “I love this song.” “Dracula” is dramatic, with a wise message sewn into its lyrics. But the best thing about it is how it commits to its theme.
“Summer Lover” counts Amber as one of its composers, making it a special song for f(x)’s fans. It is a fun, upbeat song, but, unfortunately, it is not for this album. The quota for a sweet ditty is already more than adequately filled by “Vacance” and outro “Paper Heart,” which is a refreshing end to the album with its sincerity and mandolin strumming. “Summer Lover” would have been better off being saved for a future release.
Just about every song on Red Light sounds good, though I have to worry about the one that stuck out. Again, it’s not that they are bad songs, they’re just not the best fit for this album’s overall sound, which is more mature and oh so languid.
But lyrics-wise, this album is beyond commendable; gone are the days when they sang nonsensical words that no one understood. f(x) have always had a bratty vibe to them — which I love and feel is a part of f(x) — but that has now matured into a no-nonsense attitude. The songs have messages of maintaining a strong sense of self, whether you’re just enjoying the summer weather in “Vacance” or finally opening yourself up to love and be loved in “Paper Heart.” f(x) know what they want and encourage us to be the same.
Pop music is meant to be light fun, but the fact that I can connect to the lyrics of these songs brings the album up a notch from their previous two efforts, rewarding them with a 4 out of 5.