Aug 1, 2016
NCT 127 Debuts With "Fire Truck" And I'm Still Dying
After promising teasers from the second unit group of SM's latest plan to take over the world, NCT 127 has finally made their official debut as the "Seoul Unit" of the group. I'm still not entirely sure about the concept of NCT in general, as I thought previously that NCT U was the unchangeable core and the other "city-based" units would be interchangeable, but now it seems that maybe it's the opposite way around. I don't know for sure and I don't know if I ever will so I've figured that it's best to just follow along whatever units will come out of this massive project. NCT 127 is composed out of Taeyong, Taeil, Jaehyun, Yuta, Mark, Winwin and Haechan and is following the path of NCT U in making a debut that's quite different from what you'd normally expect from a SM release.
I already knew from the teasers that this song was not going to sound like either "The 7th Sense" or "Without You", but was a song with its own character. I was correct in that assumption because "Fire Truck" is a song that is not only different from the NCT U releases but also from general SM produced music. The track is composed by LDN Noise among others, known for their work with f(x)'s "4 Walls" and SHINee's "View" (songs that I love) and like those two it would definitely be categorized as EDM, although with a very different sound. While the other two have more of a relaxed house sound this one is meant to be a hype, upbeat dance track with a heavy instrumental. It follows the formula of rap, bridge, instrumental beat drop and repeat, and there's inherently nothing wrong with that nor is it new to K-pop. This song could've just as easily been a Monsta X song or possibly iKon as well. With that said I think you know how I feel about this song knowing my opinion on the mentioned group's material.
No, I don't like this song all that much. It sucks because I wanted to love this and I do really, really like the members, but it still doesn't do it for me even after several weeks of hearing it here and there. Sure it's grown on me and there are some parts of it that I like but as a whole it's not a song I would listen to repeatedly.
My biggest problem is probably the fact that I feel like this shows very little of what NCT is capable of in terms of vocals, as there is next to no vocal bits in the song. 5 out of 7 members have non-vocal parts and the ones that do sing hardly actually sing. Jaehyun's beautiful voice for example isn't shown off at all, and Yuta is also quite capable yet left with only rapping. The beat drop is also quite weak (although the bass line is nice) and it's only at the end where it picks up and actually get interesting. This I can see why this song would work nicely on stage and with an audience, but paired with a video it doesn't really hold its own.
The MV for the song is also a bit underwhelming, mostly because it's so confusing. At first watch I was too busy being distracted by the song to even take in what was happening, and at the second watch I was still completely unaware of what the video was supposed to mean. What you see is basically the members of NCT 127 showing up at different locations in different time periods in a random white woman's life (from childhood to adulthood) to cause a ruckus: throwing things around and blasting off fire hoses.
You'd watch and wonder what they heck they're doing and if there's any kind of deeper meaning to this, but thankfully the members themselves explain it thoroughly in their "MV Commentary" video for Mnet. Their actual roles are protectors of the woman (although their styling makes it hard to believe), as in the end it is revealed that each situation had some kind of danger and the boys then show up to help her (a.k.a spraying water around to take out the hypothetical fire), and at the end she's also seen smiling as she's thankful for their presence. As sweet of a plot it is it's so vague that it's hard to understand without them explaining it to you, and even so it still feels very random when watching it. The video does include quite a lot of dancing as well and the intense and fast-paced choreography does fit the song well, but there isn't enough dancing in the video to do it justice unfortunately. The dance practice version is my favorite so far (also because I love seeing them in normal clothes). Overall I think the video is still quite good and definitely unique and original, but it's not my favorite NCT video so far and I know they can do a lot better.
I want to quickly go over the self-titled mini album that was released with this comeback as well, because all we got with NCT U was those two singles. I must admit that I miss the presence of Ten and Doyoung a lot though, and I would've loved to see NCT U continue their promotions but a majority of the U members are in this unit as well which makes the transition a bit easier (which I'm sure was the plan). The first song on the mini is "Fire Truck", which I think needs to further comments, but it continues on with the completely different sounding "Once Again". It's a very fresh and summery song with the right amount of sweetness, and it contrasts the heavy intensity of "Fire Truck" by being very breezy and relaxing. It's a bit of a strange transition and I'm not sure about the idea of that track order, but it's a cute song nonetheless even if it isn't too spectacular. It's always nice to hear more of Taeil's voice too.
The following song though is definitely my favorite on the mini, as it is everything "Fire Truck" could've been. Also a LDN Noise track, "Wake Up" is heaps easier to listen to and has a instrumental that has a right amount of intensity and dynamics, and a build-up and climax that does get your heartbeat going. It's more on the house-side of the spectra and is very exciting without being too hyped, and this song also allows the vocalists to actually sing. My only complain is that the track is too short with its mere 2:57 minutes, and with a beat like that I feel like it could've gone on for a minute more without any problem.
"Another World" is the next song and it's also an electronica track but yet again with a different feel from the others, as this one is more smooth and relaxed (the chorus especially) and there's an even mix of both rap and singing. I do think it's a bit disappointing though that the exciting build-up in the bridges of "I don't wanna feel nothing" doesn't lead to anything bigger, or more like how the chorus doesn't suit the prior parts as smoothly as it could have, but it's absolutely still a decent song.
"Mad City" however is my jam for real, as it's the rappers Taeyong and Mark's own track which they actually performed a lot when they were part of "SM Rookies" but have now upgraded with new lyrics and more confidence. It's a track full of attitude and the really go hard with the lyrics and delivery, and the beat is so good that I probably would've liked even if they didn't rap particularly well. Thankfully both of them can hold their own, with Mark especially being awesome as he's arguably SM's best rapper ever and Taeyong being better than most SM rappers too. Additionally Jaehyun sings the intro for the song and I wish he had done some more featuring between their rap parts, but it's a great track nonetheless and really showcases their talent.
Last but not least is "Switch", and the nostalgia is real with this one. This was one of the original tracks that the boys performed with SM Rookies and was thus their own song, and now it has been released as a bonus track on this album. It is the original recording that is used, thus featuring the vocals of Doyoung who's not in the unit and Jaehyun singing in a key way to high for him. Nonetheless it's a song that brings out a lot of feelings I think both for the fans and the members, but it's also actually a good electronica song with a great beat and I'm so happy it's included on the mini album, which overall has left quite a good impression on me.
I don't think the album is perfect or amazing but it has a few jams on it and I can see where they're going musically with this unit. I wouldn't say that it's SM's first "hip-hop" group as only the title track is packed with that much rapping, but that NCT 127 is leaning more towards different kinds of EDM and electronica. I don't mind this at all and I hope they can keep this up, but so far I'm left wanting a little bit more than I was served. I do already adore these boys though and I can't wait to see what's going to happen next, both with NCT and NCT 127.
Album Score: 3,8/5