PENTAGON: Runaway Review

Well, I’m truly baffled, to tell you the truth, by PENTAGON’s latest release “Demo_02.” Did something change here? Did Cube Entertainment employ a new team of producers for this album? We do know that both “Demo_02” and PENTAGON’s preceding release, “Demo_01,” have been almost entirely self-composed by the members. So…what happened? Title track “Runaway” has little of the power that I’m accustomed to hearing from PENTAGON, and most of the B-sides on this mini-album are lacking the sophistication that made past PENTAGON albums so replayable. Yes, my expectations were very (very) high, and that has heavily colored my perception of this comeback. Compared to all of PENTAGON’s past title tracks, “Runaway” goes just about nowhere, and it’s really a head-scratcher.

Until “Demo_01” lead song “Like This,” PENTAGON always followed a structure in their title tracks: They applied a few brief vocal soundbites to beat-focused hook, then fleshed out the song with complex, elaborate verses. It always worked beautifully. The composition and style varied from “Gorilla” to “Can You Feel It” and “Critical Beauty,” so the new releases never sounded too similar, but they were always assembled around an upbeat dance hook that was a little bit jazzy, a little bit funky, and a whole lot spectacular. “Like This” switched things up by introducing a fully melodic vocal chorus, and it was equally remarkable. “Runaway” returns to the original structure—involved verses and a chorus where the instrumental largely stands on its own. In earlier PENTAGON title tracks, the instrumental was created specifically to hard carry the chorus. But the instrumental of “Runaway” isn’t strong enough to do that. It’s too simple. This simplicity that could have worked if more vocals had been written into the chorus, or even if the instrumental had been significantly more melodic (take, for example, the successful instrumental-based hooks of Red Velvet’s “Peek-A-Boo” or NU’EST W’s “Where You At”). This instrumental, though, needs more—synths, percussion, bass, anything—because as is, it feels a little…empty. There’s no impact.

It’s especially disappointing because the verses are, in fact, pretty good. As usual, every member performs to the nth degree. The rap parts, especially, up the tension with a full, dramatic instrumental and tons of energy. There are also some great dynamic moments—for instance, that long, drawn-out bridge before the final chorus, which slow-burns the buildup through four distinct advancements of the beat, several different vocal patterns and a rap part. That whole bit was excellent. But the chorus doesn’t follow through, rendering the spectacular buildup useless.

As we know, this title track is a conceptual continuation of “Like This,” evident in the parallels in the two songs’ choreography, the recurring symbol of “running” in the lyrics, the strikingly similar album covers, and the inclusion of brief clips from the “Like This” music video in the “Runaway” MV. It was obvious from the titles that “Demo_01” was going to be the follow-up to “Demo_02,” so it’s only natural that the latter takes up the tortured rebel boy concept of part 1. Still, Cube and PENTAGON know that to release two sad songs in a row would be pushing their luck commercially, so they had to come up with something dark but still upbeat. They could have done this without using this variety of lite EDM, but Cube felt the need to chase trends, and that’s where “Runaway” flounders. The disconnect between the rebellious concept and the trend-conforming chorus is ultimately the track’s downfall here, because “Runaway” avoids the dramatic sound that the concept demands.

It’s also unfair not to take into account how hard PENTAGON has been working since their debut. I mean, only two and a half months have passed since “Demo_01.” PENTAGON has been self-composing for both “Demo” albums, they’ve been putting out individual and duet projects for months, and several members have been composing for other groups or participating in agency unit projects. Besides all that, the group has had five albums out in the past thirteen months—five, and every single one has been an EP, not a single. I mean, maybe the guys’ creative juices have just been stretched too thin. Really, how can anyone expect every PENTAGON comeback to be perfect when most groups that consistently deliver quality music have 2-3 comebacks a year at most? Still, PENTAGON’s performances in the music video and the livestages have been just as energetic and professional as ever, despite the fact that they must be exhausted by now (are they superhuman? Superheroes? Probably), so I’m blaming Cube more than the boys for this one.

The rest of the album is much like the title track—decent, but confusing due to the occasional quality hole. “Violet” is simultaneously my favorite track on the album and the song that most disappointed me. The sweet, earnest melody is superior from start to finish, and the boys deliver lovely vocals as well as emotional rap performances. “Violet” has so, so much potential, and it’s excruciating to watch the loud, grating overproduction leach almost all the sweetness out of the song. (Maybe someday they’ll release or perform an acoustic version???) The other ballad on the album, vocal line’s song “Stay,” faced the opposite issue: The production is fine, but the composition and performance are less than inspiring compared to other PENTAGON ballads. PENTAGON’s vocalists are some of the very best in the industry, but they don’t get much chance to show off in “Stay.” Coming two months after the breathtaking “When I Was In Love” from “Demo_01,” this song barely crests mediocrity. “Stay” is one of those tracks that I’d give a pass if my expectations weren’t so high, but knowing what these guys are capable of, I can’t help but feel dissatisfied.

There is one thing to be said for “Demo_02.” PENTAGON’s hip-hop side has definitely developed with this comeback. “Pretty Boy,” performed by PENTAGON’s rap unit, is delightfully unapologetic in every way. It’s bizarre, sassy and ironic—Wooseok even sings at the end, “This song is all over the place.” You can feel member E’Dawn’s creative influence on this song, which is gratifying because I think Cube’s been holding him back a little in the past few comebacks. The dramatic hip-hop style of “All Right” also packs some punch, demonstrating for the first time since debut that all ten members can pull off hip hop, not just rap line.

Cube needs to take their time putting together PENTAGON’s next comeback, because they obviously rushed “Demo_02.” The idea of concept development from album to album is fine, but it’s pointless if the music doesn’t follow through. Happily, most people seem to like “Runaway” more than I do, so hopefully PENTAGON’s popularity will continue to grow with this comeback and they’ll have the chance to really hit it big in 2018. They deserve to, that much is sure.

 

RUNAWAY: KAYFLOP OR KAYBOP? *holding back tears* F…F-flop…

 


Take a look at PENTAGON’s “Runaway” MV below:

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