Whenever an act makes their name with an aegyo concept, you have to wonder how they're going to go about shedding that image as they get too old to pull it off. I thought IU's "Peach" earlier this year was a great step towards the singer-songwriter stuff she's been interested in since she started out, but which fell by the wayside when songs like "Boo" and "Marshmallow" took off. Recently, Boyfriend has taken a successful turn towards adulthood with "Janus", which is their best release to date.
Out of everyone, though, I've had my eye on B1A4's transformation. They seemed to be on the right track with the brilliant "Baby I'm Sorry", which tested the waters of maturity by shedding the silly gimmicks and sound effects of the past for a slick dance track, a more grown-up look, and a less childish performance (compare the way they interact with their female co-star to their interactions in older videos like "Beautiful Target" and "Only Learned the Bad Things"), while still retaining the kind of off-beat charm we've come to expect from B1A4. Unfortunately, their follow-up single, "Baby Goodnight", was a corny mess. "Baby Goodnight" brought back a lot of the goofiness, but the charm was lost amidst a happy-go-lucky story about cheating and lying to their girlfriends. To make matters worse, for a group that earned the nickname "live-dols" for their great live vocals, many of them struggled with the falsetto in live performances of "Baby Goodnight", which was certainly a disappointment.
In the time since then, B1A4 debuted in Japan with "Beautiful Target" and "Baby Goodnight", and then released the saccharine "Hey Girl" as an OST track- was B1A4 stuck in the past for good, or could their third mini album, 'In the Wind', pick up where "Baby, I'm Sorry" left off?
The title song "Try to Walk", written by B1A4's leader Jinyoung, sets the theme for the album, as every song mentions walking toward, away from, or with someone. The intro, the verses, the rap breaks, and the outro are great- they have the kind of open, bright sound you'd expect from an album called 'In the Wind', the instrumental is really cool and different for the group, but still sounds like something they'd do. Their vocals sound better than ever- even Baro got to sing a little, and was pretty impressive. Actually, Baro totally blew me away on this album. While low-voice rappers are nothing new to K-Pop, he brings a unique sensitivity and expression to his verses that gets better and better with each release. He took part in writing all of his raps on this album, and I think that really helped him connect to the songs and bring his rapping to the next level.
Going back to "Try to Walk", however, there is one massive problem- the chorus. The melody is fine, the vocals are fine, but there is so much sound packed into such a small space that it's overwhelming, staticky and kind of hard to listen to. This song could've gotten four or five stars from me with a better chorus, but as it stands, it's my least favorite song on the album. At least the video is gorgeous, right? Thankfully, the rest of the album is really, really good.
Jinyoung's take on a solo track, the R&B tinged ballad "BE MY GIRL" featuring JeA of Brown Eyed Girls. While the lyrics are probably the most suggestive that B1A4 has ever attempted, with Jinyoung repeatedly inviting his girlfriend to stay the night with him, it steers clear of anything too intense or scandalous. He breaks out the falsetto once again and shows a lot of improvement in that department. JeA is perfect on this song, but what else would you expect from a Brown Eyed Girl?
'In The Wind' has a total of three guest stars- aside from the aforementioned JeA, we have Suzy of miss A showing off her acting in the narration on "I Won't Do Bad Things" and Shina-E's expert vocals on "What Do You Want to Do?" I'm not normally a big fan of people talking in the middle of songs, but I think they did a pretty good job of incorporating the talking in both songs, so it didn't bother me. What does bother me is the random knocking sound throughout the background of "I Won't Do Bad Things", which takes away from an otherwise nice song with great harmonies. "What Do You Want to Do?" takes on a chill, disco sound that really suits the band well- I'd like to see them explore this genre further in the future.
"If..." puts B1A4's vocals front-and-center with an understated instrumental. While some groups would take this opportunity to fill the song from beginning to end with runs vocal tricks, B1A4 makes a smart choice to scale back and let their clear tones and great vocal blend speak for themselves. We end with a bright dance track, "IN THE AIR". I actually wish this song was the single, as it's a lot more fun and is solid from start to end, unlike "Try to Walk". However, there are a lot of vocal effects in this song, and I imagine that could hurt B1A4's "live-dol" image in performances.
All in all, this album gives us a very clear look at the ways in which B1A4 has grown as a group. While their music is less aggressively commercial than before, it's better crafted (save for the chorus of of "Try to Walk"). They're moving away from gimmicks and toward real musicianship, which is exactly what you want to see as a group matures if they plan on having any staying power. While I would caution that they need to figure out how to bring back some of the charm and commercial appeal of their previous singles, 'In the Wind' is, overall, a step in the right direction.