Big Bang are seniors in the industry. They may be younger than DBSK, but at least 80% of the active groups now will consider them as seniors, and that includes the likes of SNSD, the Wonder Girls, and the acts who are already considered pretty up there. With seniority comes not only wisdom, but freedom. They no longer have to adhere completely to what the industry wants from them, they're free to experiment. But at the same time, they've been in K-Pop so long that that sound they had to adhere to has become their sound. That's where the challenge lies -- to find a balance between the two -- and that can only be done if they're completely sure of who they are, both as individuals and as a group.
The first thing you hear when you put it on is synths, autotune, and a catchy hook. That's the intro, "Alive", for you. What's interesting to note is that although it's very noisy and heavy, it's a perfect preface to "Blue". Technically speaking, it's probably because of the synths and the melodic nature of the intro that's present in "Blue" as well, but once again, half of that equation is based on feeling. It just feels right. "Blue" is gentle and very unassuming on the outside, what with the soft synths, that actually remind me of a haze or mist, but it packs a punch on the inside, courtesy of the bass and guitar lines. I compared it to water the last time, and that still stands -- you have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate it, but when you do everything makes sense.
We see the return of the fun Big Bang through "Love Dust". Take a truckload of notes, B1A4, this is how it's done. In reality, the more I listened to it, the more I was convinced that this is the complete opposite of "Blue". While you have to look underneath everything to see the beauty in "Blue", you actually have to look at the surface, and nothing but, when you listen to "Love Dust". The deeper you look, the less sense it makes. The instrumental just goes on and on and on, and that annoying "love dust" chanting keeps appearing, the verse practically stalls during the transition to the chorus, and the list goes on. You have to look at this as a whole, or chunks at least -- the melody is gorgeous, the production is spot-on, and the vocals were delivered flawlessly. Put that all together and you have a fun, lively song that I wouldn't mind playing at a party or a club, not because it's a bad song, but because it's fun yet it manages to be gorgeous. That doesn't make it a shallow song, in reality it makes this album even more of a challenge because you have to switch mindsets so much.
When I first heard "Bad Boy", the instrumental reminded me so much of Alicia Keys. What got me really excited about this though is the fact that it has the gentleness of "Blue" laced with a different kind of intensity as opposed to "Love Dust". It's a mature kind of intensity -- it's not in-your-face, but it's sure of yourself. "Bad Boy" reminds me of vanilla ice cream. It's not overpowering like those triple-chocolates or every-fruit-possible flavors, but vanilla is far from tasteless. It's very simple, basic, and because of that you're allowed to taste all the other features of ice cream you don't usually do -- the smoothness, the creaminess. The same goes for "Bad Boy". The melody is very simple, so it allows you to hear the tambourine, that gorgeous drum line, and gives you actual dynamics. It's laid-back but not lazy.
If I was to describe "No Fun" in one word, it would be "arrogant", because it really does sound arrogant. The very strong bass line, the repetitive nature of the instrumental and the whiny-ness of the vocals (which was done well) all give off that arrogant sound. Actually, it reminds me a lot of a Big Bang-ized Infinite, for that very reason. Like Infinite with stature and maturity.
Honestly, "Fantastic Baby" was the song I had the hardest time "reading", so to say -- I finished the entire review, but the space left for this was empty. Then it hit me, like it almost always does. This is the link between last year's mini-album and "Alive". That techno sound they were going for this year was intensified, but also allowed to mature. The hook is more effective, the synths more cohesive, the dynamics present, and the melody only second to everything else. The structure of the song is quite a lot to take in but it's not a song you take in bits, it's one you just take as it comes. This is their way of saying, "just because we've matured, doesn't mean we can't be trendy anymore." At the end of the day, they're still Big Bang -- trendy and fun.
So, have you figured it out already? What makes this a Big Bang album? Even if you have, I'll say it anyway. I've been hinting at it since the beginning, and I've seriously been itching to say it. The reason why "Alive" sounds like a Big Bang album is because it sounds effortless. Sure, Big Bang are known for their fun, "running around stage" songs, but that went out the door long ago. Listening to this album in relation to everything else they've put out, the one thing that has managed to transcend all their releases, despite outside factors, is that sense of effortlessness. It manifests in different forms, whether it be like "Love Dust" where you're not supposed to think, or "Bad Boy" that shows you how much they've matured. Everything sounds so easy to Big Bang that this album is beyond the songs fitting like a glove, now it's as if the songs are a part of them. As a listener, the songs feel right in relationship to each other and because of that, the album is an absolute joy to listen to. Sure, it practically puts your brain through a roller coaster, but when you finally figure everything out it's such a joy. It's like getting a perfect score on a test you really slaved over for months, or getting in to college.
My favorite: "Wings"
Song(s) I'd listen to again: Everything else. Seriously.
My least favorite: N/A
Last words: Best release of the year so far. No one holds a candle to this.
The final verdict: 5/5