Hmmm. Hmmmm. A few weeks ago, when Wanna One released the mediocre “I.P.U.” ahead of their new album “Golden Age,” I rushed to their defense, insisting that the upcoming title track would meet expectations. The release of “Boomerang,” much to my chagrin, seems to have proved me wrong. The dance track is plenty brash, but barely substantial. It’s like YMC Entertainment’s producers grabbed ahold of the blueprint of what’s been working in K-pop lately, photocopied it, and turned it over to the group to perform, without actually fleshing it out into a song. It’s not awful, but there’s…something missing. After the crystalline “Energetic” and the compelling “Beautiful,” this comeback almost doesn’t feel like Wanna One. Or wouldn’t, if not for the album’s side tracks, which thankfully remind us that Wanna One is capable of much more than mundane EDM hooks. More (many more) thoughts on that in a second.
Like I mentioned, the issue with “Boomerang” isn’t some fundamental structural flaw or dynamic failing, but the pure lack of substance across the board. There’s no meat here. It’s just the bare bones: a beat with some shrill dance sounds, a key vocal soundbite to form the core of the hook, and some—well, some verses. Would it have killed them to give the bass a little more character? The vocal hook a little more melody? The verses a little more…anything? Instead of something cohesive and catchy, you’ve got a series of swag moments that don’t go anywhere, met by fleeting vocal hooks that utilize a single note almost exclusively. There’s no flow, no connective tissue. You hear this track relying a lot on “hey”s and “wut”s, swallowing valuable time that could have been used to give the members something worthwhile to perform. Probably the high point of “Boomerang” is vocalist Daehwi’s 3-second rap part, which literally makes no sense. Members who usually impress me had little, if any, opportunity to show what they can actually do. It’s the same case as with “I.P.U.”—this would be a decent song for some other groups, but our expectations for Wanna One are high, and “Boomerang” doesn’t measure up.
The good news: The rest of the album does. It is FAR beyond me why opening track “Gold” did not replace “I.P.U.” as the prerelease single, because while it has the same feel-goody vibes, it’s ten times the song “I.P.U.” is. Besides, “Gold” is the song that highlights the comeback’s concept, the “Golden Age” theme that the group has been teasing for months. But I guess that’s beside the point, which is that “Gold” is as good as pure pop gets. It kicks off with an incandescent vocal moment by our very own Sungwoon, then opens onto honey-sweet thrumming synths and driving drums that thicken moment by moment as they draw closer to the hook. And then—and then! The central melody, the same one that was delivered at the beginning by Sungwoon, recurs over a new chord progression and a new tempo that builds up tension. It sets up expectations for some sort of drop—god forbid more EDM tedium—but what follows is another melodic hook element, more paced and deliberate, and its tune is simple magic. The melodic structuring and restructuring in “Gold” reminds me of all those nuances in “Beautiful,” which is a gratifying feeling.
“Gold” also gives the members some actual material to perform, and not just the vocalists: we finally get to hear rapper Guanlin, who barely opened his mouth in “Boomerang,” as well as other members who didn’t have a chance to perform anything that suited their voices in the title. The case is similar in the other side tracks. Take “We Are,” for example. I mean, it’s so cool. Instead of wasting time in dithering dance hooks, it’s packed with attitude-filled vocal melodies and rhythms. Whatever “Boomerang” was lacking in distinctiveness, unity, and melodic intricacy, “We Are” delivers. Admittedly, the instrumental of “We Are” may devolve into a slight fuzziness in the chorus, but the members’ performances distract from that failing. This is what YMC should be giving these guys to perform, not “boom boom boom boom boomerang,” like, for goodness’ sake. “Day by Day” isn’t quite on the level of “We Are,” I’ll admit, but at least you can feel the full vocal power of Wanna One in this song, whereas you’d never know how good they are by listening to the title track. Closing ballad “I’ll Remember” is also a highlight, though perhaps not quite as well suited to the boys’ voices as “Gold” and “We Are.” When it finally breaks into the final hook where the members all chorus the melody together in unison—nice. And the “Propose Version” of “I Promise You” (I’ll translate “propose version” to “ballad version”) is another treat, reinventing the melodies of the original “I.P.U.” and adding a new sort of wistfulness to it. I wish that the singles had taken some cues from the rest of the album and made this a more successful comeback for Wanna One.
BOOMERANG: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? I uh…Well…
Take a look at Wanna One’s “Boomerang” MV below: