Of all the Kpop groups over the years, none have quite experienced the comeback that NU’EST has since Produce101 Season 2. Theirs is a true phoenix from the ashes story, a group on the edge of a decline launched into popularity by public recognition from a reality show. Whilst they had to wait a few years to be fully reunited, the releases of subunit NU’EST W in those intervening years kept them well afloat. Now that Minhyun has rejoined the group after fulfilling his role as a member of Wanna One, we finally have the first full NU’EST release since their fortunes were turned.
Unfortunately, it’s not the explosive return that they perhaps could have done with. Happily Ever After is lead by ‘Bet Bet’, a song that, while definitely well produced and executed by all five members, does feel a little lacking in creativity. Filled with the tropical house synths and future bass influences that have spilt into Kpop in recent years from their western success in pop, the song does a good job at not overusing or relying on these trends like it could have done. One particular synth riff is present throughout and does become rather catchy. Yet this never evolves into anything else. The chorus is strong, particular with the high pitched vocals carrying it, but much like the riff, it never truly goes anywhere. The song feels as though it wants to soar – the tempo could pick up at moments, but instead, we get the beat dropping out entirely for the bridge – but holds itself back. No doubt that this is a solid song and NU’EST know how to make it their own. But following the interesting releases that NU’EST gave us, this feels quite safe in comparison.
The rest of the album changes this. While sonically, each track is relatively cohesive to an overall sound, there is a lot more variety in styles and tone than the title track. Opening with ‘Segno’ on slow piano and a laid back beat that doesn’t really drop until the first post-chorus, this song really eases the listener in. The chorus also comes with a nice little vocal hook that stands out far more than the synths behind it, the latter of which lifts the entire sound. It is quite sparse despite these touches, and with it’s fade out at the end, could have worked well as an outro track. However, as it leads directly into ‘Bet Bet’, this gives the title song its own space, making it stand out a fraction with its placement on the mini album.
‘Bass’ lives up to its name, effectively dropping a satisfying deep baseline within the first few seconds. The rest on the song follows this funky suit, leading up to a pre-chorus that throws in an unexpected chord right before the transition into the chorus. This doesn’t feel jarring, but rather keeps the listeners’ attention. There are also some great harmonies backing up the lead vocals all across the song, but these particularly shine in the second verse. The rap section, which drops out that low bass line in favour of just percussion, replacing the low timbre with JR’s voice.
Talk About Love keeps a similar rhythm to the song preceding it. Out of the songs up to this point on the album, Talk About Love stands out as the most R’n’B inspired. The rap sections are well blended with vocals, neither one fighting against each other or conflicting in tone. It particular works in the chorus where the lower vocal tone is contrasted with the higher vocals of the other members, to the effect that it almost sounds like a duet rather than an ensemble. There isn’t much chordal movement to be found, but as a song, it really doesn’t need it. It’s assured in the vibe it’s going for, and for those that like that vibe, this is sure to be a repeat listen.
If there’s a song that most fits its title, it would be ‘Different’. It is, up to this point, the most different sounding track on the album, and perhaps the most exciting. Much more upbeat, with a structure that doesn’t quite take the listener where they originally think it’s going and some interesting chord changes. There’s still a similar synth palette to be found underneath the differences, which keeps it from sounding too out of place among the other tracks. But by far one of the best features of ‘Different’ is the way in which in delays it’s beat drop in the chorus. It’s only a few beat beyond what’s expected but it makes that beat even more satisfying when it does kick in, making it one we can definitely jam along to. Add to that some great vocal combinations, and this might very well be our favourite of the entire album!
‘Fine’ can really be summed up in one word – euphoric. Or maybe it’s anthemic. There’s a subtle echo added unto the vocals and the synth that gives the song an epic scale, a feeling a space that was missing from the earlier tracks on the album. This isn’t a bad thing for these previous tracks, as the sound will certainly appealing to some more than others, and vice versa. In fact, at times the intensity of some of the sounds on this track can be overwhelming. The piano break at the bridge comes as a small, welcome respite because of this, leading more power to the final chorus despite its lack of vocals.
Carrying over some of this echoing is ‘Universe’, the final track on the mini album, and perhaps the one that could be most closely compared to a ballad by its intro. The guitar is something of a new sound after the previous songs, but it’s tied back into the general sound of the album when the bass and synths kick in by the chorus. It’s definitely more light-hearted by the verses standards, yet there’s something a little haunting in the upwards scale of the vocal line – the echo effect plus this makes the melody linger, and in this sense, it’s a very nice way to cap off the track list.
NU’EST’s long-awaited comeback as five might not be an explosion onto the scene, but it holds its own very well amidst the newer Kpop landscape. They prove they have the talent and overall quality that they need to keep up with the young blood, but still seem to need to find their identity. With their recent successes, we’re sure they’re going to have plenty more time, and releases, to find the sound the fits them perfectly.