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March 27, 2011

From the moment CNBLUE debuted in 2010, the 4-member band was quick in converting their Kpop spectators into head-bobbing fans with their fresh, soft-core rock style.

Having already tasted a morsel of stardom in Japan several months earlier, much of CNBLUE’s flight to Korean fame came from the help of front-man Jung Yonghwa’s acting debut in the 2009 hit drama,You’re Beautiful. Yonghwa showed off his acting chops as the character Kang Shin Woo (a member of the fictional band, A.N. JELL) alongside Park Shin HyeJang Geun Suk, and Lee Hong Ki.

As You’re Beautiful wrapped up by the end of December 2009, Jung Yonghwa’s life went from fiction to reality as he and the rest of CNBLUE (JonghyunJungshin, and Minhyuk) picked up their instruments and hit the stages to begin what has now transformed into a fulfilling, and idolized career in the Koreanpop music industry.

CNBLUE’s first Korean mini album, Bluetory, introduced a very mellow style with subtle traces of Western flairs resembling the sound of Maroon 5 circa 2003 (“Harder To Breathe”, “This Love”). By their second mini, titled Blue Love, the guys brought back a sense of familiarity, but with a much more laid back feel heard in tracks like “Love Light” and their 2010 summer hit, “Love.”

It’s 2011, and all four band members are back at it again. This time, armed with their first full-length album, “First Step”, with their lead single, “Intuition.”

“First Step” Track List:

01 직감
02 Love Girl
03 Imagine
04 I Don’t Know Why
05 Love Rides The Rain
06 Lie
07 One Time
08 Just Please
09 Wanna Be Like U
10 Ready N Go
11 Thank You
12 One Of A Kind

There were obvious similarities (most noticeable in the arrangement) between CNBLUE’s first single, “I’m A Loner,” and their second, “Love,” but the resemblance is nothing but roaring in “Intuition.”

For the second time, CNBLUE has released a single that rings loudly as I’m A Loner Version 3.0 more than anything else.

Intuition” consists of the same minimalistic arrangement and ‘deep deep dah dee doo’s that seem less of a progressive addition to their repertoire and more of a sly effort to repackage the format that made them popular in the first place. The ‘rock’ influences, glimmers of rap, and inviting melodies made a great first impression one year ago, but this time around it has become some-what predictable, and slightly underwhelming to hear the basic structure make its third appearance on a lead single.

One of the up sides to “Intuition” is that it can easily be recognized as a CNBLUE song. These guys are a pop-rock band, so they already know their niche; their music stands out among the crowd of Kpop.  But there’s something unnerving about hearing a lack of progression in CNBLUE’s singles. Lead tracks are meant to encompass the style of the artist while showcasing a new sound, new outlook, and a new risk; in other words, something new that adds to the characteristics of the artists. You could say that this idea of a leading track applies to bands more than to pop stars because bands don’t have the liberty to hop scotch from one genre to the next. It’s all about innovation and authenticity when it comes to bands, so have CNBLUE run out of ideas? Is it the fact that someone else wrote this song for them? Or are they simply resting on their laurels? It’s really hard to say, but luckily, most of the disappointment falls on the lead single. The rest of the album seems to (for the most part) move with a different stride in its step.

Love Girl,” the second song on the album, has a lighter tone than “Intuition.” It features a nice bass line and a gorgeous hook that leads right into a catchy chorus. This song has very strong commercial appeal and it does a better job of summarizing CNBLUE’s “First Step”; it’s melodic and very pop.

Earlier, I referred to CNBLUE as a soft-core rock band and what I meant by that is that they sound better and far more in tune with one another in their slow-to-mid tempo tracks. When CNBLUE starts diving into the ‘rock’ side of their style with some of their up tempo songs, they (ironically) start losing steam and authenticity as a rock band, and that’s just not who they are. CNBLUE is not rock. They are a pop band influenced by rock elements (“Wanna Be Like U” solidifies that statement; they’re auto-tuned).  “Ready N Go” (a playful and quick paced song) is sung perfectly fine, but the overall style is not believable enough to be taken seriously, especially when the arrangement leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t mean the song’s not good, it’s just ‘amateur’ and obviously veered toward a younger, more mainstream psychographic.

As a band, CNBLUE relies heavily on the pretty timbres of their voices, and because of that their arrangements are almost always too low-key. The overall mixes of the songs on “First Step” don’t sound adequate for any band, so there isn’t enough thrill or energy within this album.  Instead, it’s overflowing with sweet, sweet melodies. CNBLUE lives to sound pretty, and that’s exactly what is happening in “First Step.”

CNBLUE is gifted with not one, but two amazing vocalists. Being the leader, Jung Yonghwa takes over most of the lead vocals in the band’s songs. He has a very smooth voice and a broad range that sounds the best when he’s delivering notes from his higher register, like in the chorus of “I Don’t Know Why”, as well as when he’s harmonizing with Jonghyun.

I don’t know how these two found each other to form a band, but Yonghwa and Jonghyun’s singing voices work together perfectly.

Jonghyun has one of the most appealing timbres in Kpop. It’s a little husky, and it’s resonant likeKyuhyun’s of Super Junior. Jonghyun has great technique and his control is so tight, that he makes singing emotive songs like his solo ballad, “Love Rides The Rain,” sound absolutely effortless. He helps give CNBLUE an edge as far as vocal performance goes because, with a voice like that, they can deliver strong and enjoyable singing for their audience to listen to every single time.

In “Lie”, Jonghyun and Yonghwa merge their deep and smooth voices to offer a pleasant listening experience as they trade off one line to the next, allowing one another to shine with the other singer weaving in to make clean transitions.

These songs  showcase the group’s chemistry and unified strength as singers and musicians, and those traits aren’t easy to come by.

The majority of “First Step” was written and composed by CNBLUE members, and for that they deserve two thumbs up. The lead single is lukewarm at best, but fortunately the rest of the album helps add a dash of interest with an array of really pretty songs and smooth vocals.

The production is clean and tidy. However, the ho-hum arrangements give a sense of redundancy half way through the album. It’s understood that CNBLUE won’t be flying across the stage or breaking their guitars against an amp any time soon, but a hefty dose of aggression and bold sounds could have really meshed well the maturity level of some of the songs in”First Step.” Either way, CNBLUE have stuck to their guns and have brought their signature style back into Korean pop music.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Note: This article does not reflect the opinions of allkpop, only of the author.

allkpop @ Rowdyruff


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