By most standards, Nine Muses would be considered a lower tier group in the world of K-Pop. They bear strong similarities to other prominent groups in terms of physical makeup and general song style. In my opinion, their imitator style allowed nothing released by them to date to be anything truly memorable by any stretch of the imagination. Yet the buildup and response for the group's latest release, 'DOLLS', has been surprisingly popular. So is this shocking popularity justified by their music? While the argument could go either way, I believe their latest release firmly qualifies the attention they are receiving.
Nine Muses "What Is Love"
Should you be expecting an answer to the introduction track's title "What Is Love?", don't expect to find an answer by listening to the song. Perhaps I'm not listening on a deep enough level, but this overly extended introduction of varying spacey electronic sounds and vocalizations onto heavy fuzz bass sounds doesn't strike me anything more than just what it is on a superficial level. Though perhaps some of you will find the answer to this question that has long stumped philosophers within this piece. Though for the rest of us who don't, I can confidently say this: while a nice introduction, it doesn't really represent anything you're about to hear on the release. It's merely filler—albeit decently well-done ambient filler—but filler nonetheless.
Considering the heavy synthesized beginning, I was expecting "Dolls" to be continuation of the elements just heard. However, I was pleasantly shocked upon hearing the jazz horn section pumping out short Motown-esque riffs over a driving, funky rhythmic groove. The entrance of the singers in the verse didn't quite match this foundation upon entrance: they demonstrated that conservative, straight-tone pop ballad I would have naturally come to expect. The chorus performances of the song fare somewhat better, the girls sang with somewhat more inflection and flowing noticeably more with the aid of the horn riff backgrounds. Surprisingly the group sounds far more comfortable singing in the whole step key change, which occurs suspicious directly after the rap section. While the vocal performances will certainly not conjure up votes for performance elf the year, its shed typical pop conservativism just enough to make the piece really quite fun to listen to.
One thing that is evident from this recording is that Nine Muses possesses no standout vocalists. While line distribution is shown to be far more equal compared to other nine-member female groups, they all mesh together with little differentiation. This results in the sound of the group to be somewhat monotonous on a whole. Luckily, the producers did a fair enough job providing a break to this homogeneity by allowing EuaErin and EunJi to lay down some raps. Should the concept of rap in this context be defined as rhythmically articulating speech in a brisk and genre appropriate manner, then these girls certainly accomplished this bar none.
Nine Muses "Just Looking"
The next track "Just Looking" reminds me why some people never raised more than two eyebrows at the group prior to this release. The song is a pillowy, tooth-achingly sweet moderate tempo bubblegum pop song that doesn't stand out in any particular way. In many ways, it's the antithesis of the song before it. The background becomes stale and annoying over time—especially that laser synth patch that spells out the chord triads in the song's progressions. The refrain, while it does demonstrates flashes of synchronized control of the upper vocal register, isn't something I could find myself humming subconsciously. Furthermore, when the chorus proper ends and leaves the girls singing "ahh" over the mentioned annoying synth, the timing of the vocal cutout is really awkward considering that this piece isn't attempting to be jarring in anyway. The rapping doesn't impress with its draggingly slow, subdued qualities.
I think 'DOLLS' as a whole is a step in the right direction for Nine Muses. They pull enough of the right stops to both please and not offend the typical K-Pop fan while still remaining somewhat of an interesting listen for the rest of us. Considering the overwhelming backlash that has occurred with experimental song forms in other nine-member female group releases in recent knowledge, Nine Muses pulled a what could be a career saving move with this release by gaining many of those fans who went astray. For these two reasons—and only for these—I am led to believe that this album is overall quite well done.
Pros: Motown-esque horn fills, contextually appropriate rapping by EuaErin and EunJi, "Dolls" being an overall fun tune to listen to.
Cons: "Just Looking" being the antithesis of "Dolls", lack of deeper meaning in "What Is Love?", overall very conservative.
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