I know I say this every time Beast releases any new material, but this group really is one of my all-time favorites. I don't mean this in a fangirl kind of sense since I don't follow their activities much outside of their annual promotions, but more in a sense that I genuinely like the music they put out and admire them for it. Earlier this year it was, unsurprisingly, revealed that member Jang Hyunseung was leaving the group and of course it was a sad moment for fans since he's been there since the beginning. He's also a very talented dancer and vocalist so naturally his absence wouldl be noticeable, but I was confident that the remaining members of Beast were going to do just fine even as five. Now they've made their grand comeback with third full album "Highlight", and has once again proven to be a force to be reckoned with.
One of the reasons I like this group so much is that they're so incredibly well-rounded and multi-talented. Dancing, rapping, singing, song-writing, variety skills and so on; they've got it all covered. I love watching them perform live and I love bragging about how talented I think they are because they honestly don't disappoint like ever. However I am aware that this group has already peaked in terms of music and performance quality and I'm sure the members are aware of it too (they've been around for seven years after all), but that doesn't stop them from releasing new stuff and it certainly doesn't stop their fans and the public from buying their songs. Third album "Highlight" is another release composed almost entirely by the members themselves (particularly Junhyung and his composing crew), as has been the case for Beast's music since a few years back. This has led to a development of their sound that is quite different from their earlier stuff, but it's a sound that fits them well and is authentic to their own artistry.
"Highlight" opens with a song sharing the same title, and is one of the few upbeat songs on the album. Beast's music used to be much more dance-y and electronic when they were a newer group but has since become much less so, however on each album there tends to be at least one song that brings the tempo and vibe up a bit. I'm personally a bit unsure what to make of this song, as I enjoy the guitar-heavy verses and the melody of the build-up doing the bridge but the chorus isn't quite doing it for me. It's a perfectly decent song and it's a good track to build energy and hype in front of a potential crowd, but on record it's not as strong of a track.
Next up are the two songs that have been released as singles for this comeback, title track "Ribbon" and pre-release "Butterfly". "Ribbon" is a song that immediately brings thought back to their 2014 mid-tempo ballad "12:30" that in itself saw a big success. There are a lot of similarities between the two songs, as this one almost feels like a continuation of the former, but I would say this one is more of an mid-tempo track rather than a ballad (although "12:30" wasn't exactly a classic OST ballad per se either) and I do like it a lot even though it took a few listens for me to get into it.
The violins in the instrumental play a big part in creating the song's atmosphere, and the execution of both vocals and rapping is also wonderfully executed and suited to the song's message. Apparently the inspiration for the track came from when Junhyung, whilst staying at a hotel, had his bath-robe straps coming undone and being the deep thinker that he is he realized that a relationship just as easily can be untied, thus the lyrics of the song being about a relationship falling apart.
Following is "Practice", one of the few songs on the album where Junhyung isn't heavily invloved, and instead it's member Yoseob who's been more active in the making of it. Unfortunately this is one of the less memorable songs on the album, at least for me. It's a pretty smooth-sounding song with equally seducing lyrics and although the instrumental is good and it has a nice melody it doesn't leave a huge impression on me, but that is me coming in with quite high standard too. It's definitely still a good song though.
The next track is all the more memorable though, as "When I..." has quite a gripping melody right from the start and it only continues as the song progresses. While the verses are more mellow and dark the chorus is surprisingly uplifting, which isn't really a set-up I like, but the melody and chord progression still makes it work. When listening to the album this song was one of the ones that I remembered the most and was also one of the songs I instantly wanted to listen to again.
Finger-snaps and acoustic guitar, an instrumental base that feels quite familiar, starts off the next track which is "Curious". Although I know I haven't it's almost like I've heard this song before on a previous Beast album, which speaks for how this song kind of perfectly captures a sound that is uniquely Beast. As expected it's quite a chill and subtle smooth-sounding track, a genre this group pulls of so well, and the vocals along with the melody of the fantastic chorus definitely makes it one of the album's stand-outs.
Junhyung's solo track "Found You" is up next, and as is the title suggests a declaration of love and happiness. This track is also more on the up-tempo side which makes sense since Junhyung is mainly a rapper and probably wouldn't do too well with a ballad. He does however sing for the majority of this solo and he isn't at all too terrible when being in a comfortable range, but has a rather pleasant and playful tone which he gets to show off. Since he doesn't really move outside of this range though makes the song sound a bit one-dimensional, as well as the track itself doesn't allow much room for any kind of vocal dynamics. I'ts a decent song, but a bit too monotone and repetitive for my taste.
"Baby It's You" is another song that's more up-tempo and electronic, and it's one of the two songs on the album Junhyung had nothing to do with. As one would expect it's instead Kikwang who's been involved with the track, and although his vocal tone can sometimes be quite nasal and sound a bit strained he has certainly shown his song-writing skills with "Baby It's You". It has a good vibe throughout and a melody that's very easy to like. This track is definitely one of my favorites on the album.
The parade of individually highlighting members continues with Yoseob's solo ballad called "With Me", and since he is the main vocalist of the group it's almost a given that he's been given a mid-tempo ballad. Or maybe I should say has composed, as he has taken part in all processes in the making of this song. His voice flows very smoothly and naturally to match the suave feeling of the track, but that's about all I like about it. Unfortunately this one doesn't do much for me at all.
Dongwoon continues the train of ballads with his solo "I'll Give You My All", another slow song with a minimalistic approach and focus on vocals. I'm quite happy he got his own track as he's arguably the group's most underrated member and a severely underrated vocalist as well, but again this song fails to leave a strong impression. I get that it's supposed to be calm and chilled out but in this case it just means that it's somewhat forgettable no matter how sweet his vocal delivery is.
The final song on "Highlight" is "Lullaby", and I do find it a bit irritation that Beast choose to end their album with, you guessed it, another ballad. This one probably even slower than the two prior tracks, who did have more of a mid-tempo feel, and it's a problem to me that it never really takes off at any point. The melody is fine and the song in general is very soothing, having a very relaxing and simple instrumental, but I find the song a bit boring to end an album on. It leaves you wanting something more, a final power-track of some sort, but instead it's just over.
Overall I enjoyed this album, but there is one issue that I feel needs to be addressed that has begun to bug me somewhat. I've been saying for the last few albums that Beast are really finding their signature sound and do well within it, and that's still true, but at this point it's almost becoming a bit predictable. I noticed this with their previous mini "Ordinary" as well, and although it's good for a group to have a sound of their own it doesn't mean that said group should stop developing their artistry and settling for what they're comfortable in, which is what I think have happened here.
This album is good by all means, but it's very predictable and doesn't really bring anything new to the table nor does it allow Beast to continue challenging themselves musically. I hope that they'll try and upgrade their sound for whatever release comes next, because although this comeback hasn't impressed me as much as previous ones I'm nowhere ready to let go of my love for Beast yet.
Highlights: "Ribbon", "Butterfly", "When I...", "Baby It's You"
Least Favorite: "With Me", "I'll Give You My All", "Lullaby"
Total score: 3,6/5