This album review includes a companion VLOG - watch it after the cut.
There have been more than a few chances for them to prove themselves, and they’ve taken those chances and delivered solid, verging on outstanding, material and performances. Of course their material has never really gone past “good” or “catchy”, but for a rookie band (which they aren’t anymore) they were one of the best - and they knew who they were musically. That’s a very important part of the equation - their identity.
However the one thing that really set them apart from the very beginning, in my eyes, was the fact that they tried - they pushed themselves and it shows. I mean they aren’t the best singers around, Yoseob is easily trampled on by a lot of other idol singers (with actual talent), but remember that week they performed ‘Easy’ on music shows? They were pulling off 3 or 4-part harmonies. Live. They’re far from DBSK’s level, but the simple fact that they even bothered to try says a lot about their mentality, and will ultimately make them better singers. If an idol group just stays in one place, doing all these simple songs with hardly any melodies, yeah sure their vocals will grow, but at a slower pace compared to if they try new things with what they have, and who they are.
I have a hard time grasping the fact that it’s already been almost 2 years since BEAST debuted, and the fact that they’re a more senior group now. They have the success, the appeal and the wins - from this point on it’s really a matter of building a strong repertoire and getting stature in the industry, assuming that they’re going to stick around. Which they should.
And it all starts with this album. I’d hardly call it an album though. 10 tracks? That’s it? Although, if all they were going to put on this album to fill it up were their old hits, I’d rather they didn’t. If the quality of the songs goes down too, maybe 10 is a good number.
The strength of ‘Fiction and Fact’ lies in the melodies - the strong, catchy, and sometimes even stunning melodies are what makes this album a pleasure to listen to. The fact that their focus is now on the melodies says a lot about BEAST vocally - to be able to put out an album with such strong melodies requires them to actually pull them off, which they did. They’re thinking in the right way with this album - a gimmick will give you a hit, but a good melody will give you a classic. Of all the parts of a song that can, and will, transcend time - it’s the melody that people remember the most. When you remix an older song, when you ‘update’ it, so to say, the one part that remains the most in-tact is the melody - that’s your claim to fame in pop. Focusing on that was a very smart move, Cube - I never thought you’d have it in you.
Whoever did the A&R for this is a genius - the material is not only strong, but matches BEAST’s vocals extremely well.
So the album opens up with “The Fact”. The instrumental is rather laid-back - with the guitars and the light drum rolls, which for some unknown reason intrigue me. The melody is It sounds like something straight out of an AC (Adult Contemporary) chart in the early 2000’s, and reminds me a lot of Rain’s “How to Avoid The Sun” - as if they’re trying to be “stylish” or something with this song. I’m not so sure about pursuing this sound, it’s far too tame for them considering their previous singles, but everything works well together, and the song as a whole is well-pulled off. And I actually like it.
I wanted spunk? I got it with “Fiction”. It doesn’t hit you over the head as much as the likes of “Shock” or “Soom”, there are points where it is rather tame, but it’s a nice combination of tame and intense. It’s a different kind of intense, the kind that actually shakes you more than the repetitive, in-your-face, kind. Mainly because the song actually has dynamics, sudden drops and rises, as opposed to being loud for the whole 3 and a half minutes. The piano line is eerie at times, and we’ve heard similar lines in about a dozen other k-pop releases, but it gives the song character, and there’s no doubt that this sounds like a BEAST song through and through. What gives it away? The melody. The gorgeous melody.
The bridges of “Back To You” reminds me a lot of that part of “Soom” when Yoseob goes “I DA NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” - epic. The rest of the song is your standard BEAST midtempo, with all the synths and the heavy instrumentation laced with a repetitive, but melodic, melody.
“You” was the track that went in for the kill in terms of me liking the album - for no other reason than the melody being stunning. It reminds me a lot of the Brit/Euro pop group material I used to listen to, and adore, years ago - Blue, anyone? If I didn’t know better I’d think this was a Maratone/Savan Kotecha creation. And my god do they pull it off well - so much that they not only actually sing it, but go the extra mile and give the song more character, some kick, instead of letting it drone on.
When I first heard those synths at the beginning of “Freeze”, all the way up to just before the start of the chorus, my first reaction was, “Am I listening to the right album? Simon Curtis is that you?” There are points in the song when it does get cheesy, but it’s such a fun song that you eventually overlook that - it’s almost like a song for a summer-themed ad campaign. The fun is reminiscent of Big Bang fun, but the song is all BEAST - it makes you want to jump around and whatnot, but if ever they do perform this they most definitely won’t be running around stage going wild. I think a big part of why their songs have so much identity is because their vocals have identity, they’re distinct, so when you make them sing something it instantly turns into a BEAST song. Of course the dynamics and the hooks are very much them too, but it’s the vocals that give it away.
You’re going from one extreme to another with this album - “Virus” is the complete opposite of “Freeze” sonically. Catchy song, pretty melody, strong at times, but at first listen is seems as if there are stronger songs on the album - and it’s easy for this to get lost in the mix when you give the album a once-over. However, it's the type of song that takes more than 1 or 2 listens to stick to you, but when it does it's gorgeous, and all you want to do is listen to it again.
“불러보지만”, in one word, is stunning. It’s a stunning BEAST song - with as much character as there is grace. It’s not epic, it’s not elaborate, there are no tiny little details here and there - it is what it is, and the simplicity of it is what makes it so stunning. Sweeping melodies, simple piano lines laced with a pretty instrumental that explodes but doesn’t let loose - need I say more?
When I first heard “비가 오는 날엔”, I wasn’t all over it - I didn’t like it at all. But hearing it now, in relation to the rest of the album - it makes sense. “How to Avoid the Sun” references aside, the middle 8 is gorgeous and it’s a pretty song. Pretty melody, pretty instrumental, pretty this and that - but the song does have dimension. Even so, if they don’t perform this live and blow me away, it’s probably another song I’ll forget about in a few months.
“Lightless” was one of those songs I completely forgot about during their “Lights Go On Again” period, mainly because I was hardly paying attention to them during that time. I do remember liking it though - for the melody. This unplugged version (It actually sounds like an unplugged version! FINALLY K-POP, YOU GET YOUR JARGON RIGHT!) really lets the melody stand out - and I like the little tweaks they made to the chorus. This is what I like about BEAST - you take out the elaborate instrumentals but they find a way to give a song character anyway.
I was a bit skeptical when I saw “orchestra version” on the tracklisting, because k-pop has a way of screwing up terms like that. I thought at best it would be the track itself, with a string second slapped on top. Apparently not, because they actually didn’t screw up the orchestra part! Of course it’s not a full, real, orchestra, but close enough for now. String section, check, piano, check, but what surprised me was the winds section. Interesting.
There are a lot of songs, and sometimes even full albums that I never want to listen after I’ve reviewed them and listened to each song several times in a row - ‘Fiction and Fact’ is the complete opposite. I just want to keep this album on loop the whole day - everything, from start to finish - because after all the technicalities and nitty gritty, I genuinely enjoyed listening to it, because it’s such a good album.