After a painfully long hiatus, INFINITE is finally back with their third full-length album “Top Seed.” It’s different from their past work, of course—it has to be, in light of the departure of member Hoya last year, and INFINITE also knows that they have to evolve with the rest of K-pop as it grows into more and more of a global phenomenon. As referenced in the album’s closing track, “Begin Again,” the theme of the comeback is a fresh start after the ups and downs of the last year. Yet, despite everything, I can’t help but feel that the entire album is somehow quintessentially INFINITE. It’s that clean, judicious, slightly reserved—occasionally too reserved—pop that they’ve always turned out, only made new. While nothing on the album stands out to me as particularly special, there are no holes either, and “Top Seed” is an engaging listen from start to finish.
The yearning title track, “Tell Me,” with its close, clingy synth production bleeding syrupy sweetness, is brighter and more streamlined than the darker sound of past hits like “The Eye,” “Bad,” and “Be Mine.” Still, it sounds, well, like something INFINITE would do. Above all, there’s a feathery lightness to “Tell Me” brought by INFINITE’s uniquely buttery vocals, and I’d say they’re the highlight of the track. The very effective verses keep the energy up with varying melodies and close attention to slight shifts in dynamic. The vocal melody of the chorus is moves quickly, almost approaching rap, and that, along with the simple succession of notes it hits, assembles a mass of pop stickiness that is inescapable. It’s the kind of hook that, while not especially imaginative, makes you groove along with it. Though the electronic second half of the hook is a perhaps a little dull, it has a heck of a talent for getting in your head.
That punchiness is generally typical of INFINITE and highly representative of the rest of the album, which includes several full-group tracks as well as solos by three of the group’s six members. While the album never fully steps outside of INFINITE’s established realm of safe, solid pop, “Top Seed” incorporates sounds from a range of genres. We hear some funky R&B in Dongwoo’s solo “TGIF,” an electrifying dose of rock in “I Hate,” and jazzy acoustic sounds from Sungjong’s solo “Love Song.” However, some of my favorite songs from the album are the most straightline pop tracks. For example, “Synchronise” has a flavorful buoyance that intensifies with each replay. The stilted rhythm of the percussion in the chorus threw me way off at first, but a few more listens over, I noticed its strangeness adding to the track’s endurance instead of subtracting from it. “No More” is another track whose compositional oddness worked in its favor. The rich melodies steadily build up a simmering warmth that culminates in the final refrain, where two distinct lines of vocal phrasing overlap in a lush balance of rhythm and harmony. While many of the sweeter tracks on “Top Seed” were the ones that caught my attention, I’ve got to give due credit to the deliciously satisfying “Pray,” a bit of a throwback to the old INFINITE that combines a slightly eerie melody with a dramatic, waltzy triple beat.
All things considered, this isn’t my favorite INFINITE comeback, which I’ve probably made clear. But INFINITE clearly wants to move beyond comparations with the past. “Top Seed” opens a new chapter for the group, and it’s one that is long overdue in starting. More than anything, it’s great to have the veteran group back on the scene, and to know that despite the changes the past year has brought, they definitely haven’t lost their touch.
TELL ME: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Yeah, it’s pretty boppy.
Take a look at INFINITE’s “Tell Me” MV below: