Since their first release (“For Muzik”), 4minute has tried to corner the electronica-dance niche in K-pop, trying to differentiate themselves from existing girl groups – e.g. SNSD or Kara – that mostly followed mainstream pop trends.
In essence, 4minute has always been gunning to be a female iteration of Big Bang, but with the emphasis on visuals over the swag (2NE1 has that covered, thank you very much). So when they drop lines like “leggo”, I can’t help but cringe and gnash my teeth in frustration at their absolute disregard for integrity of concept. Just tasteless and fucking embarrassing.
That said, 4minute’s latest mini, “Volume Up”, is closer to current musical trends then other K-pop groups, but as the awkward, swagger-less enunciation of “leggo” shows (I refuse to let them get away with this), 4minute, and indeed K-pop as a collective music genre, is still a-ways away from setting trends.
“Volume Up”, the lead single, is undoubtedly catchy, but, like others have pointed out, sounds like it recycled the sax sounds that made the hook of Alexandra Stan’s “Mr. Saxobeat” such an earworm. However, the break around the bridge/lead-in was a nice surprise, and it’s one of the best moments in the song, as it brought a K-pop touch to an otherwise Eurodance/trance beat.
Despite being pleasant to listen to, I expected the song to be more creative and energetic considering that Shinsadong Tiger, Cube Entertainment’s in-house super producer, is credited. My guess is that this type of Eurodance doesn’t play to Shinsadong Tiger’s creative strengths (which are best with distorted bass guitar-led dance-pop tracks like BEAST’s “Soom”).
“Volume Up” is followed by “I’m Okay”, a great guitar ballad that gives the main vocalists the space and chance of pace to shine. As anyone can tell you, it’s not easy to belt when you’re singing in 128 bpm. “I’m Okay” is a valuable addition to the mini because it allows actual vocal talent a place in the 4minute catalog. It’s often easy to overlook the fact that 4minute has decent vocalists in the persons of Gayoon and Jiyoon, especially since they’re grossly underused (which sort of makes sense since the group is basically carried on the person of HyunA).
“Say My Name” and “Femme Fatale” are where this mini fall flat on its face. Both are disappointingly forgettable dance tracks, especially “Femme Fatale” with its sleeping pill of a buildup. Despite the great instruments that were used – I could have sworn that they used the modern talking setting on Massive, which has been all the rage recently amongst EDM producers – “Femme Fatale” is perfect evidence that trendy sounds do not a catchy song make. Why more labels don’t follow the YG Entertainment model of devoting meticulous attention to each song on the record instead of filling minis with this sort of throwaway crap will always remain a mystery to me.
“Dream Racer” is the other surprise winner on this mini. It starts off with a riff that could have been from a Major Lazer set, but then it jumps into a quick fidget-house beat before The KOXX transplant a pop heart into the whole contraption right at the drop.
“Black Cat” is perhaps the only other song that fits with the vampire theme. It’s got a great, sensuously dark feel, and a delicious phat side-chained bass glues the whole thing together.
Overall, “Volume Up” represents a decently exciting mini-album from 4minute. With the exception of the inexcusably cliché “Femme Fatale”, they assembled a crack team of producers (including a personal favorite, The KOXX) and put out a respectable production.