INFINITE is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in K-Pop right now. Last years' 'INFINITIZE' album was a massive hit, with "The Chaser" beating out 2011's "Be Mine" as their third-highest charting single thus far. At the end of last year and beginning of 2013, Sunggyu and INFINITE-H both had successful promotions (Sunggyu has said in interviews that he considers 'Another Me' a failure, but it was the top selling physical album of November, which is no small feat). There's a lot of pressure when an act is at the top, the higher you get, the harder it is to keep moving up as opposed to falling. How did INFINITE handle the pressure? By taking on what they're calling a 'New Challenge'.
In a way, it's not that new. Three out of the six songs (seven, counting the intro)- "Man in Love", "As Good as it Gets", and "60 Seconds" were produced by Sweetune, the team behind most of INFINITE's hits. It wasn't clear whether or not INFINITE and Sweetune would be continuing their partnership after Sweetune recently started producing for Starship Entertainment acts, even giving Boyfriend the INFINITE-esque "Janus", but it seems as if they're continuing the partnership and just tweaking the sound a little bit.
The title track "Man in Love" and the following track "As Good as it Gets" follow in the synth-heavy, 80's pop steps of their previous songs, but this time around they've dumped the dramatic violins and angst for something brighter. "Man in Love" is lyrically similar to INFINITE-H's "Special Girl" in that it's a sunny, happy song about young love, while "As Good as it Gets" talks about learning and growing after ruining a relationship by being immature. They both contain that fun and sunny sound, perfect to kick off spring, while staying true to the sound that INFINITE has spent the last few years developing.
As far as their other Sweetune-produced song, a group remake of Sunggyu's solo single "60 Seconds", I'm not quite as impressed. The verses sound great- Sungjong and Sungyeol's thin vocals especially took me by surprise, as they really fit the feel of the song. However, when the whole group comes together on the chorus, it sounds a little bit like show choir for a pop song, which is only amplified when Woohyun over sings his part. Yes, having everyone sing on the chorus is one of INFINITE's signature sounds, and it works in their pop songs, but in a rock song like this it's a little overwhelming. The rap break is awkwardly shoe-horned in and completely unnecessary. If they wanted to remake the song, they should have done a complete reboot, with a new instrumental and everything, or else arranged the vocals so that the chorus wasn't SO overwhelming.
"Still I Miss You", "Beautiful" (which was written by Woohyun) and "Inconvenient Truth" (which will probably go down in history as the only K-Pop song named after an Al Gore quote) round out the rest of the synthy, 80's sound to finish the album. While the songs are all pretty good on their own, it's a bit much to have so many similar-sounding songs all packaged together right after the other. Adding something a little different, maybe an acoustic solo or sub-unit song in the mix, could have broken things up and made the album a little more listenable. Then again, most people listen to their music libraries on shuffle rather than listening to albums straight through, so perhaps that wasn't a concern they even took into consideration.
'New Challenge' is a nice album and it's worth a listen. It's great to see INFINITE leading the pack as K-Pop breaks out its fun music for spring, and while the album didn't really blow my mind or anything, "A Man In Love" has definitely earned a place on my music-that-makes-housework-more-fun playlist.