There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about EXO. Its sheer size is much like Super Junior's, the members' pretty boy look is much like SHINee's, and their super-performer presentation is much like TVXQ's. I'm sick of people generalizing the rookies, too, but we make these connections with other SM boy bands to EXO for a reason. SM wants make it well known that they created EXO using the best qualities of all your oppas so they can slay everyone in K-Pop using their awesome CG superpowers.
EXO's 'MAMA' is a showcase of the group in the form of an album. It introduces their "mythological" origins (or simply concept) and talents, but not so much their individual sound. Not a big surprise there, though. We didn't hear Super Junior's signature sound until they released their "Mr. Simple" trilogy.
"MAMA" is your typical SM super-performance single but fit for 2012. Let's ignore the fact that it reminds us of TVXQ's and Super Junior's early days because everything about the production here is awesome. Though a bit over compressed with the vocals and string work, it provides that much needed room for the explosive drum work that drives the track. It's a little hard to ignore the Engrish here though. I get what they're getting at with their teenage emo cry, "NOBODY CARE ABOUT ME", but in an age where K-Pop is heard by English speakers worldwide, it doesn't really make sense to use Engrish lines as a gimmick anymore. But, what I do love about "MAMA" is the cleanliness. There's a lot going in the track, but everything seems nicely contained under the confines of a track being played at a Korean department store. The listening experience isn't off-putting or overwhelming, but still packs a punch.
The mini album continues with promotional singles "What Is Love" and "History" presented with a similar level of quality and precision in production as "MAMA." Both tracks had contributions by foreign songwriters/producers Teddy Riley and Thomas Troelsen, respectively, giving a nice flair to the album, but nothing more. Check out our review for "History" here.
"Into Your World (Angel)" is the token fan favorite of the album. This is the least aggressive track in 'MAMA''s bundle of aggressive power pop anthems. What, I think, drives fans to lean over to this track is that fact that it seems to reflect the image and true nature of the boys, concept aside. Without the drawn on tattoos and bondage stage-wear, they're young, innocent looking rookies, and "Angel" just seems to be the most believable track on the record. Not only that, the song is just really easy on the ears too with the soothing vocal delivery and relatively light percussion.
"Two Moons" is a display of "Hey we were trained to rap well, too." Of course, there's a lot more to rapping than what can be taught, so we can't really shelve this one under Hip-Hop. But as a pop song, it's pretty damn catchy with some great hooks. Oh yeah, SHINee's Key is featured on it, too, spitting out English verses, adding to the fun. Additionally, the whole two moons theme here is a great play on the backstory provided in the 'MAMA' music video.The general delivery and overall idea of "Two Moons" is awesome, but with its canned stock sound "HEY" samples, and less-than-satisfying bass, it doesn't stand out from your everyday K-Pop song.
On that note, SHINee listeners will probably mistake the next track as a Shawol jam. "Machine" follows that same advanced pop formula that we've heard from SHINee's recent hits like "Lucifer" and "Sherlock." Here we have a bunch hooks, a complex song structure, an anthemic chorus, and super stacked vocal harmonies. It could easily be a hit for "SHINee", so it's a shame it's settled as an album track for EXO. On the bright side, it kept 'MAMA' from ending with a bland filler, and the machine concept fits alright with EXO's sci-fi looking visuals.
Molded by the same production team and directors as their seniors, many of us ask, "What is EXO exactly?" Even though we're given this extravagant and lavish visual of the boys, their debut album seems to be a collection of SM hand-me-downs. That doesn't mean the album is bad, but it's really hard to put your finger on what SM is going for with EXO. But based on what we're given, SM's concept for EXO concept is simply that they're better than everyone. I mean, with all those teaser videos, they were literally flaunting their cash-heavy productions, taunting those D-List entertainment companies scraping for enough cash for a couple of pre-recorded performances on Music Bank. So I guess for now, that'll have to define EXO for us. EXO is a group full of handsome young boys with a black belt in K-Pop performance arts and super expensive music/videos.
Like everyone else, I am impressed by EXO, but I can't help but feel that 'MAMA' is just a big ol' teaser altogether for something that could be even better.