Big Bang - "Alive"

Taking off from my review of "Blue", "Alive" in it's entirety is exactly what I was saying last week -- the album challenges our existing idea of what the "Big Bang sound" is, and it makes us think. I was looking through people's comments of the EP, and a recurring theme is that it sounds far too pop, that they've abandoned their R&B beginnings. However, this isn't an album you can just listen to at a glance and say "okay, these synths sound like Big Bang, and this chord progression sounds like something from their previous albums" -- no, you can't just end it at the technical elements. You have to take those elements both individually and as a collective, and in as many combinations as you can think of. Just like what I said when I reviewed "Blue", you have to be in the right state of mind to both appreciate and understand this album. It will only make sense if you think about the music in relation to all the other factors this album was put out to.


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.

Allow me to profess my love for "Wings", and how YG has finally taken advantage of Daesung's gorgeous voice. Gorgeous melody, simple instrumental that reminds me of "Viva La Vida" with more electric guitars, that stunning chorus that finally shows off Daesung's vocals, and of course, the mandatory synths throughout. It's as if Daesung knew that I'd die hearing his voice like this, but he just had to add in strings to kill me even more. It sounds like a Big Bang song, but it doesn't -- it sounds like a Daesung song, but at the end of the day Daesung is a part of Big Bang, and you can never take that away from him. This song is exactly that. The Daesung in it is obvious, but go deeper and the Big Bang becomes audible.

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

8 comments:

  1. i much prefer Big Bang doing songs like Love Song and Blue and Bad Boy. never was a fan of their old music. 2012 is gearing up to be a phenomenal year for k-pop!

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  2. Loved ur review. I agree with everything and also about how u have to have the right mindset to enjoy the song. I enjoyed this mini alot more than the fourth because I loved everysong in this. My faves were blue, bad boy, and wings. I also enjoyed ain't no fun quite a bit too especially the beginning. I think love dust was my least favorite but I didn't hate it and I would listen to it if it comes up. The intro was beautiful. I really want it to be a full song. Can't wait to see then perform because their stages make me love the songs even more.

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  3. Thank you so much for your insightful review on the album! It feels great to read someone write so intelligently about songs I cannot understand at the get go because of the language barrier. I completely agree with you about their maturing and the album sounding so effortless. Thanks again for the great review!

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  4. thank you for the review. i love reading how you interpret music. wings is my favorite too.

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  5. I got goosebumps while reading your review. Thank you for acknowledging BIGBANG's efforts to give us badass music, whether its mellow or electro-pop or RNB. My favorite review so far.

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  6. Glad you love Wings. It seemed like I was the only one who did. Though I have to complain about the post-production on the songs. Give me Daesung, strings and guitar and I'm in heaven.

    I absolutely hate, hate Ain't No Fun. It irks me. I sounds like it should have been on GD's solo project or was a GD&TOP reject.

    Absolutely great album. As you say, effortless. Probably because the degree to which they are involved in the music, it seem very authentic. No concepts, gimmicks in mind. Just BIGBANG and their musicality.

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  7. A belated comment...but this album becomes even more awesome once performed...it's truly amazing live LOL

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  8. loved this review because you hit the exact notes of why i liked this album so much.

    bigbang is probably the only boy band in k-pop that i could say i'm a fan, mainly because i think g-dragon and t.o.p are two of the most fantastic artists in the world. but, though i enjoy big bang's discography just fine, none of their albums ever caught me as a whole. "alive" was the first that fully love, especially because of the things you say.

    i think it's mature because u feel there's a personality in it. it's the second album from what i know of k-pop so far that i can imagine the members in the studio altogether [the first is BEG's sixth sense]. awesome album, great review!

    fightin!

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