Nicole, former Kara member, has made her solo debut with mini album First Romance. The album consists of five tracks (and the instrumental track of “Mama”), and although its title might suggest a collection of bright songs that describe the excitement of a first love, what Nicole presents to us is very different.
While the sequence of the tracks does not convey any story in particular, various aspects of a relationship are captured in First Romance. “Innocent?” expresses the curiosity of one entering a relationship, while “Mama” depicts a lot of dating without parents knowing. “7-2=Misunderstanding” and “Love” both take place after a break-up but have very different moods. The songs also allow Nicole to showcase her pleasant voice, without being too vocally challenging.
The first track on the album, “Innocent?” exudes a rather seductive feeling, which is ironic considering the title of the song. The song showcases Nicole speaking the lyrics (which are composed of a number of questions) with a short feature by Kim Boa of Spica, who sings a short two-line melody. Elements such as the reverb of the voices and the instrumental give the track a unique sound and make the introduction to the album stand out.
The second track and title song of the album “Mama” continues the sultry colour of the first track. When the title of her debut song was first revealed, I was slightly skeptical as to what kind of concept she could adopt with a song titled “Mama.” As it turns out, the lyrics express the story of a young woman falling in love behind her mother’s back, giving the song an alluring style. These lyrics are echoed by the melody, which has a smooth, mature and somewhat dark sound. With a moderate tempo and an organ-based accompaniment, the song is relatively toned down. It isn’t incredibly spectacular as a title track but regardless catchy and a worthwhile listen.
In terms of the third track, I would like to firstly commend the songwriters for the cleverness of the title: “7-2=Misunderstanding.” 7-2 is equal to 5, “오” (oh) in Korean, and by adding a character at the end, the word for misunderstanding, “오해” (oh-hae) is formed. The song itself is a ballad featuring Dongwoo of Infinite, whose deep rapping complements Nicole’s high-pitched voice. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other noteworthy aspects of this track — it is mostly quite generic. The melody is slow, and Nicole’s timbre gives the song a sweet feeling. “7-2=Misunderstanding” is overall an agreeable but forgettable addition to the album.
“Joker,” the fourth track on the album, contains another feature, this time by Ricky of Teen Top. This track is a pop song, as it speeds up the tempo of the album considerably compared to the previous track. Although the song sounds quite upbeat, the lyrics describe the feelings of a person who hides their love for someone behind a smile, and the repetition of “laughing” in the lyrics matches the title of the song: “Joker.” Ricky’s timbre also blends well with the tone of the song, allowing his short rap to fit in smoothly. A more interesting touch is added through the use of xylophones and whistling in the instrumental.
The album ends on a ballad, “Love.” What stands out about the track right from the start is its length — the song is more than five minutes. “Love” is, in several ways, an excellent way to end the album. For one, it showcases Nicole and only Nicole. While her album has included some impressive features, “Mama” and “Love” are the only ones in which she is the sole singer, and having the latter as the final track is a good way to draw the attention back to Nicole as a solo artist. Another positive aspect of the song is that it is very simple – no elaborate melodies, no fancy accompaniment – but it successfully conveys the sorrowful emotions expressed in the lyrics. These elements make “Love” one of the more memorable tracks on the album.
First Romance, with its solid title track and decent B-sides, is quite an enjoyable mini album and establishes a mature and feminine image for Nicole as a solo artist.