A band in K-pop isn’t a band ’til they’ve lost a member, and F.Cuz is no different. The likelihood of member changes is such a commonality now that the effect they have is no longer a big one. In fact, integrated changes, if anything, brings with them the opportunity of reinvention. Today, most K-pop labels treat drastic member changes like extreme makeovers. In F.Cuz’s case, the leave of member Lee-U invited new musical ideas and directions, things that the group desperately needed, and put them into effect in their latest mini-album, “For Century Ultimate Zest“.
F.Cuz’s musical style was never exactly set in stone. For the most part, they were another run-of-the-mill boy band that jumped onto the electro-pop bandwagon of 2009-2010, releasing cheesier music than I’d like to remember (“No One“, “Jiggy“) and sporting some of the most outrageous fashions. They were bizarre and mundane at the same time, yet they somehow managed to survive through it all. Looking back at their trajectory, F.Cuz is one of many K-pop bands that I consider “conformists”, as in pop bands that trail behind trends more religiously than others. They’re the groups that, rather than carving out their own niches, stand in single file behind those that do it for them.
“For Century Ultimate Zest” is conformity at its finest.
I had initially felt a surge of excitement as I listened to this album, because quite honestly, it’s a pretty album that is as cohesive from track to track as I like albums to be, but what I found to be interesting (and slightly disturbing) was that this album had a neutralizing effect on me. “For Century Ultimate Zest” is incredibly derivative of past K-pop songs, to the point that it virtually numbed my response to it by the third playback. There are moments in this album that glimmer with intrigue and promise, but most of it is dripping in skinned coats of things I’ve heard before.
The opening track, “야누스“, comes across like a carbon copy of Kim Hyun Joong‘s “Break Down” in everything from the progression to the rap breaks and barking nuances. “전화좀 받아” – a mid tempo minor pop song with a heavy kick and a set of pounding drums – follows with a song that could easily be mistaken for a BEAST filler off of their “Fiction & Fact” album. The songs themselves aren’t criminal, but rather than hearing F.Cuz, they come across like every boy band in existence. There’s nothing F.Cuz about them because F.Cuz hasn’t exactly established what that is (야누스).
In contrast to F.Cuz’s unidentifiable presence, their one redeemable quality in this album is their vocal proficiency, because if there’s anything worth taking away from this is that they sound extremely good, and far better than they ever have before. F.Cuz have opted for squeaky clean vocal processing in lieu of heavy auto-tune.
“Rise Up“, my favorite track on the album, is a melodic banger that fuses 80s pop with a modern electronic polish that utilizes the entire dynamic spectrum. It expands and breathes really beautifully. It’s different and F.Cuz sounds excellent. It poses the thought that not only could there be a lot of talent within this group, but that it only takes the right material to make it happen (Rise Up).
The mini album returns from its minor detour back to the cage of conformity with “있을때 잘해봐” and “NO. 1“. Both reek of the K-pop sounds that are being pushed out today, particularly those of this year’s rookies. That aspect is really difficult to accept because F.Cuz have been around far longer than any of them and shouldn’t be hiding behind what rookies are doing today, but rather be developing a place of their own in K-pop. I could easily hear NU’EST flocking to a song like “NO.1″. It’s tame and dramatic, with a funky electronic break down. It’s a decent song, but a forgettable one, and that goes for this entire album.
“For Century Ultimate Zest” is pieced together really well (whose genius idea was it to end the album with the lead single followed by a club remix of a B-side?) and produced better than some of the music out today. But what it has going for it in technicality is completely lost in a musical identity crisis. The lead single is the closest thing to sounding like what F.Cuz released years ago, but the rest of the album not only bores, it loses itself in a foggy set of copies.
This album doesn’t come across like a defining moment of exploration or one where the idols are testing their musical versatility. It feels more like F.Cuz’s attempt to keep up with the times by churning out music that mirrors everything out today. The opportunity to reinvent themselves was wide open, but unfortunately, F.Cuz didn’t quite take it.