CNBLUE might have kicked off their career in Japan, but after an extended stay in Korea, a slew of Korean EPs later, and many smaller endeavors in between, their first ever Japanese LP, humbly titled “Code Name Blue“, is the group’s first real and most honest Japanese project to date. Written and composed almost entirely by frontman Yonghwa, “Code name Blue” is a blanket of craftsmanship, creativity, and musical identity; three elements I remember really enjoying about CNBLUE’s earliest work, and three elements that are harnessed to their fullest potential in this album.
“Code Name Blue” is woven with the same pop-y hand that gave birth to the iconic CNBLUE style we hear today; admittedly, a style that tends to wear heavy on my ears after constant rotation. But to my pleasant surprise, the campy details that plague their Korean work are dispersed and cut with braver musical elements in this project, making for a far more well-rounded listening experience.
“In My Head” is a prime example of this, as it’s a heavy-handed rock anthem filled with lots and lots of bass. It’s an addicting track that exists to showcase the boys as full-blown rock stars, which this album does really, really well (“Come On” is another winning rock banger).
If there’s a bigger-picture takeaway from “Code Name Blue”, it’s that it manages to weave together very different styles that all work perfectly under CNBLUE’s unique pop identity. It’s like viewing the same piece of art from different angles, each visualized in full throughout this album. For instance, the light-disco vibes heard in most CNBLUE records are catapulted to glorious levels in “No More“, while the boys serve Maroon 5 realness in more alternative-pop tracks like “Where You Are“.
The diverse pallet of “Code Name Blue” achieves a fulfilling experience and allows us a sweet listen to every corner of the CNBLUE sound without ever striking a chord of redundancy. Almost all of these songs were released in one shape or form before this album, but CNBLUE have done a fantastic job of piecing them together, not only to flow well, but to sound like they were actually meant to coexist under this release. Even the placement of each track was well thought out; the album starts on a strong, energetic step forward, and doesn’t unhinge you until halfway through the tracklist, where we’re welcomed by steadier tempos and colorful melodies (see “These Days” and “Blue Sky“).
It’s a strong album for CNBLUE and it’s a strong album as a whole. Albums, either in Japan or Korea, are rarely this cohesive, but “Code Name Blue” powers through from beginning to end in high fashion, and it’s probably one of my favorite releases in Japan by a K-pop group this year.