Over the course of two mini albums, Pentagon have already shown a lot of promise for a group who only debuted half a year ago. But I have noticed one thing all their albums have in common: they never seem to pick the strongest track as their promotional single. Luckily, they made up for this last time by releasing a music video for the dynamite “Pretty“. New single “Critical Beauty” draws from unique influences, but its disparate pieces don’t quite add up to create the breakout track the group needs.
Straight away, “Critical Beauty” blasts off with a retro rock guitar riff and soulful vocal sample. It’s a very specific sound that I can’t remember hearing in K-pop before, and instantly creates interest in what’s to follow. The verses continue this riff-based structure, allowing main vocal Jinho to burst out of the gate with an impressively bold delivery. If nothing else, the track allows Pentagon to spotlight their vocals in a way that mainstream K-pop often shies away from. The pre-chorus follows suit, injecting a dose of brass and hand claps that nicely build anticipation.
Things deflate a little soon, however. The chorus of “Critical Beauty” jettisons the instrumental’s rock influences for a skeletal hip-hop beat that feels more like a breakdown than a proper hook. I’ve never been a fan of this particular structure, as it brings down the energy just when you’re anticipating a climax. Further listens smooth out this awkward transition, but I wish the chorus consisted of a more interesting melody than the repetitive one line we get. Still, the vocals are gorgeous and nuanced, and the producers get a ton of credit for injecting the track with elements that feel fresh and memorable.