Quite why I’ve made the decision to review an album from a K-Pop girl group here on Picky Bastards I still don’t understand. A site where we revel in diving into what really irks us about music, complaining about the most silly things seems like a recipe for disaster when you consider the almighty power that K-Pop Stans have online. BLACKPINK are no exception and the self declared BLINKs are so devoted to their favourite girl group that they scare me just a little as I write this review. Here’s hoping The Album avoids any of those picky criticisms we are known for eh…
I’ll start with the most obvious thing to mention here, this is billed as the true ‘debut album’ from BLACKPINK. News to casual followers like me who have been aware of the group for a few years now, seeing them perform to arena sized crowds here in the UK last year and elsewhere across the world on the BLACKPINK In Your Area World Tour. It’s hard to imagine many acts being able to do an arena tour before releasing a full album, but hats off to BLACKPINK for achieving it so quickly. The reason I’m even more surprised this is billed as ‘The Album’? It lasts just 24 minutes (Just 8 minutes longer than 2019’s Kill This Love EP).
I’m all for concise albums, but that takes the piss a little bit. Perhaps I’m just used to the sort of album releases labels in the West do, stacked full of big hits released over the last few years, often including songs 2 or 3 years old to ensure there’s things people already know. In that respect, The Album avoids that trap by feeling very current across its 8 tracks, with just 2 singles that fans will have heard before.
Of those singles that kickstart the album we get the two sides of The Album explained pretty well. The first, the stomping ‘How You Like That’ fits alongside nearly every K-Pop song that has found an audience across the world in recent years. Massive clattering pop production, full of attitude and assertive lyrics, the hook itself being a glitchy grinding instrumental riff designed entirely so the band can have a welcome dance break for the chorus. We hear this sort of thing elsewhere on ‘Pretty Savage’ and ‘Crazy Over You’. All three do kind of blend into one though. There’s little to distinguish between these and some of the earlier BLACKPINK records I’ve heard too.
‘Ice Cream’ is the biggest hit BLACKPINK have had so far, a collaboration with Selena Gomez that ends up feeling bang on the sound that the band look to be moving into. I’ve listened to quite a few K-Pop groups at this point, obviously BTS, but also bands like MONSTA X, Big Bang, EXO and the now defunct Girls Generation. There’s a unifying sound of most of these bands that diverges from the pop songs you’d hear on American radio.
‘Ice Cream’ is interesting to me because it’s so current American Pop that it seems that BLACKPINK have their sights set on becoming much more of a global band than others. It’s a Selena Gomez track in every conceivable way, with the album’s Cardi B featuring track ‘Bet You Wanna’ feeling like it could have been on Gomez’s recent album Rare too. These songs are instantly more memorable for me, the focus on hooky choruses and more engaging vocal performances sounding much better on record. It adds another layer to The Album that’s impressive given its length, carving out a niche that sits well alongside the dance banger moments that I’m sure come alive on stage.
It’s ‘Lovesick Girls’ that manages to combine these two sounds that ends up as the highlight though. Full of shouty vocal effects, it’s a out and out dance record that’s just plain fun to listen to. In a similar way to their appearance on Lady Gaga’s ‘Sour Candy’ earlier in the year, I can imagine this sounding absolutely banging in a club setting, even if it’s not exactly high brow lyrically.
There’s lots of enjoy on The Album and I would definitely say I do enjoy some of the tracks here. Outside of closer ‘You Never Know’, which can’t work out if it’s a 90s girl-band ballad or not and failed entirely because it can’t make up its mind, there’s nothing really bad on here. That said it’s not exactly a ground-breaking pop record either, I can’t imagine going back to this in a few months. It’s just good fun for now, which for a 20 minute ‘album’ is fine by me.
Words by Sam Atkins