After a slight delay
to avoid dropping at the same time as SNSD’s Mr. Mr. to properly celebrate Queen CL’s birthday, 2NE1 has finally released their second full-length album in Crush. After a year which featured three 2NE1 singles ranging from downright bad (‘Falling in Love’) to “not as bad as ‘Falling in Love'” (‘Do You Love Me’, ‘Missing You‘) and a CL solo that also underwhelmed, 2NE1 could use a couple strong tracks to right the ship. Thankfully, Crush has plenty of solid music on it which should make Blackjacks happy.
“Crush” displays both 2NE1’s strengths when it comes to electronic pop music and some of the group’s more infuriating limitations. The beat is a nice mixture of the currently en vogue EDM and hip-pop genres that fit very well within 2NE1’s Jeremy Scott inspired pocket. The beat is good combination of heavy bass, strong percussive elements and a nice synth beat which dances above the lower mix. Claps add a hip-hop element which keeps the song from being too repetitive. As for the limitations, Bom brings it and CL manages to squeeze as much attitude as she can out of some rather boring and repetitive lines but there’s just not a lot here vocally. When Bom disappears, “Crush” loses a lot of steam and much is required of the beat to keep things engaging. Luckily, the instrumental track is mixed to be the star and demands most of the listener’s attention. “Crush” is fairly good and certainly better than the group’s more recent up-tempo releases.
“Come Back Home”:
“Come Back Home” leans heavily on the reggae/R&B influences which 2NE1 has cultivated as their signature sound since they debuted. The bass is once again very prominent and it sounds like a mishmash of a bunch of early-era 2NE1 at times but the breakdowns hint at some more modern touches. There’s some excellent echoes added to the vocals which bring with it a whimsical longing that contrasts with the more suffocating beat. The calls of “come baby baby, come come” are (probably) unintentionally hilarious but “Come Back Home” fits within 2NE1’s wheelhouse and the group unsurprisingly pulls it off. It’s not a standout track but it doesn’t warrant a skip either.
“Gotta Be You”:
Welcome to the R&B portion of the album. “Gotta Be You” sounds more like a Big Bang effort as a result but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The choruses are the real strength of “Gotta Be You”, as they should be for an R&B song, and the production knows how to properly make them shine with some great accelerated breakdowns before each. The snare drum is utilized perfectly and CL fills the verses and buys time for each chorus nicely. This is the type of song that actually suits 2NE1 better than the reggae efforts as it gives Bom more to do and CL’s rapping doesn’t sound forced like it can otherwise. “Gotta Be You” is arguably the strongest tracks here.
“If I Were You”:
“If I Were You” continues to slow things down with a mid-tempo pop ballad. Rolling percussion and piano give “If I Were You” some gravitas that is really confirmed with the inclusion of high strings in the higher levels of the song. Dara is used nicely. Her higher but undeniably softer voice isn’t washed away in anything too aggressive or bombastic as is often the case with 2NE1 songs. “If I Were You” is a filler track but it’s a good one.
“Good to You”:
We’re hitting mid-album which means that this is where all the slower tempo R&B and ballads are mashed together to justify the existence of a full length album. “Good to You” is a slightly more maudlin “If I Were You” and having them be back-to-back doesn’t really do either any favors. The production hopes that a heavily mixed piano laden beat will give “Good to You” some pathos but there’s not enough going on here to justify the stripped down (for 2NE1) beat. Given a ton of room to breathe, the group mostly sits on its laurels as well, more inclined to half-rap half-sing their lines in a sleepy and longing way which is probably meant to add some tinge of restrained emotion but only bores.
After two slower songs, “Crush” completely switches gears to CL’s solo, “MTBD.” It’s more or less like CL’s solo effort proper “The Baddest Female” with a much more pronounced middle register synth section. The bass is as heavy as ever but there’s some good balance between the bass line, CL’s delivery and the spastic synths that give “MTBD” surprising balance when it often sounds like it should have gone off the rails about a minute in. Overall, it’s a very solid job.
“Happy” is a more straight-forward pop song. The percussion is cultivated to a marching beat, demanding the listener to two-step with 2NE1. While this runs the danger of being too-cute by half, the staccato delivery of some of the vocals at rapid fire pace play off the production and Bom’s penchant for vocal embellishment well. “Happy” is another song that make great use of the snare cymbal and drum but the real star of the show is the bass drum which thumps along and drags “Happy” from the very start to finish. “Happy” is passable but one of the most forgettable tracks on Crush.
“Scream” (Korean version):
“Scream” is a Japanese single import which definitely fits into 2NE1’s general discography. As far as album placement, “Scream” is in a good place – far enough removed from the first two tracks of which “Scream” shares passing similarities and just following a lightweight pop ditty. The incredibly dense synths and processed vocals are a nod towards the J-Pop influences while the bridge, claps and high “scratched” synths are undoubtedly 2NE1. The hook is simplistic but catchy and the differing ways that the vocalists are processed is very shrewdly done. CL’s sneer blasts through with clarity while Dara and Minzy are given more sheen to blend. Overall, “Scream” is fine and does plenty of things to keep the listener from getting bored but it is also a little flat, like a company party that tries to liven up a gathering by employing every ice breaker in the HR handbook.
“Baby I Miss You”:
“Baby I Miss You” reels everything back again with a slow R&B track. The mix of rich, low bass and high rapping snares is pretty great. Keys ripple through the middle register to round “Baby I Miss You” out in textbook fashion. 2NE1 seems content to ride the beat on auto-pilot. CL and Bom provide what highlights exist but “Baby I Miss You” seems to want to not make much of an impression. At its best “Baby I Miss You” is inoffensive filler. At it’s worst, it’s still inoffensive filler.
“Come Back Home” (Unplugged version):
Unplugged acoustic versions of 2NE1 songs are more interesting than they have any right to be because the group’s singles are usually so processed and heavily into assaulting the senses with as many synths and EDM breakdowns as the mind can handle. Stripped down, “Come Back Home” works depending on how one feels about 2NE1 as vocalists. Everyone brings their A-game but mileage will vary based on ability. CL is definitely more fitting for the original version. Bom does Bom things. She’ll always have her supporters who love her distinctive clear voice and she’ll always have her detractors who dislike her knack for embellishment but she is perfect for something like this. Dara acquits herself nicely and Minzy is very, very good. As somewhat of an “extra”, you could do a lot worse than the unplugged version of “Come Back Home.”
Crush is a 2NE1 album through and through. Fans of the group will find much to love about the album and the versatility in genres will give listeners some good stuff to chew on. There is some boilerplate filler but most of it is passable at the very least. However, if one has listened to other 2NE1 singles and not taken a liking to them yet, there isn’t much here that will change their mind. 2NE1 is a group that has long since figured out what it likes to do – reggae/hip-pop/EDM-fests with R&B as a pace changer – and they hit all of those genres confidently in Crush.
Best Tracks – “Crush”, “Gotta Be You”, “Come Back Home (unplugged version)”