[Review] After School 'Flashback'
After sub-unit and international projects, After School made their proper comeback to Korea with their fifth maxi-single 'Flashback'. But being away from the Korean spotlight for a year now, it felt like Pledis Entertainment and After School used this single to push their business affairs in order rather than make any type of musical statement.
With title track "Flashback" it looked like After School wanted to leave no rock unturned in hitting on as many trends as possible. With the previous singles "Because Of You" and "Shampoo", exploring the softer side of the group, "Flashback" brings us back to the now. The girls have a current industrial electronic sound, use guns in their music video, and of course include a dubstep breakdown. The ambitious goal with the track can also be seen in how it breaks down into, what I see as, 13 separate sections:
-first verse 0:23
-pre-chorus A 0:38
-post-chorus section 1:07
-second verse 1:18
-pre-chorus B 1:34
-chorus (repeat) 1:41
-bridge section A 1:55
-bridge section B 2:10
-dubstep dance breakdown 2:24
-bridge section C 2:39
-chorus (repeat) 2:56
Or all together:
That is a lot to take in as a listener. The production and vocal styling change for each section, so there is little time to get into a section's groove before it changes again. Yet, somehow it all comes together…in three minutes and 18 seconds. The talk/rap intro by Lizzy and Nana may come off as sloppy initially, but it works for it's given something for the fans to shout along to in live shows; it would be a tad bit strange for fans to shout along once Raina and Jung-Ah's sensual verses start.
The song's shining moment is its catchy chorus with the repetition of the stutter-tastic "bo-bo-bo-bo-boy I miss you" line. Luckily the line is catchy enough in itself as the chorus only lasts 15 seconds. With all that's packed in, the track makes for a strong, ambitious comeback song for After School.
The rest of the EP plays interestingly, again feeling more like a business initiative than a musical statement. Opening track "Rip Off" is an interesting choice. The track is one of the stronger songs from their Japanese full-length 'PLAYGIRLZ', but longtime fans may have expected a follow-up to the "Let's Do It!" or "Let's Step Up!", tracks that have signified strong comebacks for them in the past. If After School was set on releasing a Japanese track in Korean, they could have also opted for "Miss Futuristic" as a nod to being strong females looking to the future of the group, but "Rip Off" works just fine as the intro track. The track has as much blips and pops as HyunA's "Bubble Pop!" (for which we should really look to Britney Spears' "How I Roll" for reference), but focuses more on heavy drums. It's a strong track, but somewhat disappoints as one of the tracks taking up a spot in a five-track single. Its inclusion may also be a way to remind Korean listeners of the Japanese CD, meaning more sales!
The last of the up-tempos comes from the electronic disco track "Eyeline" by Nana. The track seems to try to establish the direction After School is heading rather than making any type of musical statement. A member getting her own solo track out of a five-track maxi-single for an eight-member group? Pledis wants to make Nana a star. "Eyeline" is a hot track that wouldn't be out of line for someone like Kylie Minogue to record with the disco violins, and Nana's distinctly high voice is a highlight for pop fans.
The single then slows down with the ballads "Timeless" and "Wristwatch". The former track is a spotlight for the group's two top vocalists Jung-Ah and Raina. Again, "Timeless" feels like another item on the After School agenda in trying to establish particular members. It does feel appropriate though seeing that as they've paid their dues to earn a duet as the more senior members of the group. Musically, this song is a nice guitar-driven, R&B ballad; although this reviewer can't help but feel that this is an example of the closest K-pop may ever get to country or country-pop. The chorus has subtle guitar twangs which one might associate with a country ballad creeping its way into this track. It's an unexpected sound and adds a unique characteristic to the by-the-numbers ballad.
And finally, there's the all-group ballad, "Wristwatch", which has the feel of a classic Disney movie ballad. There's nothing modern sounding about it; it's just a beautiful ballad. But still, if the concept of the 'Flashback' single is sexy, why include yet another ballad? The purpose of "Wristwatch" could be to counteract the trendiness and autotune effects of the title track to show that these girls are all vocalists in their own rights. And again, I catch little traces of country in this track as well.
Overall, the 'Flashback' single feels more like a way to put Pledis and After School's business affairs in line before the music. 'Flashback' is strong, but I think the next comeback will come to define After School more. There are rumors it will come this year, so ideally, the next single will be more of a musical triumph that will help decide the future of After School.
Jeff Benjamin is a singer, songwriter, DJ, photographer and freelance writer who has written works for Billboard, Rolling Stone and now allkpop. He is passionate about making international music accessible for English readers. Follow/chat/send him music suggestions on Twitter @Jeff__Benjamin.
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