Those of you that have been pressing me to review B.A.P‘s “No Mercy” are in luck, because I finally sat down to do it. Even better, I’m tackling the repackaged mini (yes, they make those now), which includes two new songs in addition to all the tracks on “No Mercy”.
Can I get one more say?
At the beginning of the year, I was all over B.A.P (like, all over it). Not only did they leave me utterly mind-blown and excited by their explosive debut, arguably the strongest rookie debut of the year, but they reminded me of what true hunger to make a statement in this industry looks like. There’s nothing that I appreciate more from a rookie than a strong first impression, and these kids did it really well. From their look to their sound, B.A.P had it on lock.
They continued the trend with “Power“, which was every bit as loud and aggressive as “Warrior“, and carried it over again to this summer’s July single, “No Mercy“.
“No Mercy” finds itself in an interesting position as a single, in that it’s the third time in a row where B.A.P serve this ‘stomp the yard’ attitude and style in a K-pop song. It’s a hype song through and through, but here’s the problem with it. Where “Warrior” had me impressed me because there was an element of surprise and the thrill of the unknown, “No Mercy” doesn’t possess the same impact, for there’s nothing exactly worth hyping anymore. It’s not to say B.A.P isn’t an exciting group, because they can be, but what they’re forcefully throwing in our faces is something they’ve already showed us; not once, but three times now. I give them props for consistency, but deduct house points for redundancy.
Beyond that, though, the song itself feels a bit more flawed than I’ve heard from these guys, and I think here is where this single truly falters.
“No Mercy” is set in a stomp-stomp-clap rhythmic beat, which in itself has proven to be incredibly effective in music history if taken advantage of intelligently (Queen‘s “We Will Rock You“, anyone?). But what B.A.P has done, which has ultimately interrupted this potentially strong single, is layered an even heavier level of vocals on top of it. It’s riddled with extraneous ad-libs, raps, and sent through an unnecessary section of whatever it is that occurs at the middle eight. It proves to be too loud for its own good, and by the end it crumbles due to the sheer weight of weak hooks and busy verses.
I admire B.A.P’s energy, because groups don’t go this hard in pop music these days, but it comes across unfocused when they continue to try to top themselves in these empty hype songs.
When B.A.P’s music isn’t tooting whistles to gain my attention, and is instead stripped of its over-done elements, it’s solid. Daehyun, who’s the group’s lead vocalist, acts as one of the strongest weapons (not named Zelo or Bang Yong Guk) in B.A.P’s artillery, and thus carries this group into incredibly fulfilling territories that don’t shine quite as hot in the group’s lead singles.
“Goodbye“, ”음성메시지“, and “마음이 시키는 일” (or basically every song on “No Mercy” that involves heavy vocals) find sweet ways to balance the heavy differences within the group; reduce the rap sections, multiply the vocal potency.
In “Goodbye”, a motivational mid-tempo pop-rock anthem, we hear these two strong elements work in harmony. The vocal lead lays out the tone in the first verse, Bang Yong Guk carries it in a deep rap transition, and we’re swept off into the chorus. It’s not a cluster of styles or competing nuances, but rather a tight song that leaves a really nice taste on the palette. The R&B ballad “음성메시지”, which echoes the dark overtones of SECRET‘s Jieun‘s “Going Crazy” (feat. Bang Yong Guk) with twice the intensity and vocal showmanship, satisfies in the same way.
B.A.P very easily manage to incorporate everything they like to play with inside these tracks, like rock influences and quirky bells and whistles, without making a crazy fuss about it. It’s these lighter touches that are most appealing, so naturally I liked the direction they took with “Crash“.
“Crash”, a breezy mid-tempo, isn’t showy at all and feels more like a track recorded for funsies, but it’s a nice departure from the harder-edged style B.A.P usually serves on shaky silver platters. It also flows a lot smoother within the body of this album, the original and the repackaged version, and wraps this era in a nice bow. Is it a memorable single? Not by a long shot, but it’s something fresh from our boys and not completely out of their musical identity as a pop group, either.
The Bang Yong Guk and Daehyun duet, “I Remember”, reminds us of their dark, R&B extreme. You know, just in case the softness of “Crash” was too sweet to handle.
This mini-album is a lot more pop-rock than B.A.P’s debut onslaught single release, but it draws the right amount of inspiration in the overall body to flow well for the group’s 2012 discography. They have a pretty strong grip on the type of music that they’re aiming for, but I think they haven’t quite given themselves enough time as rookies to challenge their aggressive temperament in the proper ways to re-energize the listening experience. It shows in their lead singles, and it feels like they don’t know how to leave a lasting impression without reverting to their old, tried ways and gimmicks.