[Album Review] EXO’s first full-length album ‘XOXO (Kiss and Hug)’

exo_xoxo

Photo credit: SM Entertainment

After hitting the 910, 000 sales mark on October 11, it seems EXO’s debut full-length album, ‘XOXO (Kiss and Hug)’ is soon to go platinum!  No other artist has broken the 1 million album sales record in Korea since 2001 so for a rookie band that only debuted last year, just getting that close to breaking the record is a already a pretty big achievement. You should be proud of yourselves, boys!

To celebrate, I’ve decided to review all the tracks here. If for some strange reason you haven’t yet, I definitely recommend you to listen and buy the album for yourself. It’s available on iTunes.

  1. ‘Wolf’ – The title song that divided fans everywhere, it follows the same mash-up style of Girls Generation’s “I Got a Boy.” It starts off with synthesized howling and a Chinese traditional flute sound and then launches into heavy bass beats overlaid with rapping. As the song goes on, there are abrupt shifts in pace speeding up and slowing down in different parts and changes in style with elements of hip-hop, pop and dub-step present. Along with the ghetto-like ‘Hey’s, auto-tuned squeaky “saranghaeyo”s and belted high notes, it can sound a little full-on and messy. However, after listening to it more, it does take some getting used to and it’s starting to grow on me like “IGAB.” I especially love the bridge with D.O’s echoing ad-lib, together with Chen and Baekhyun who just let rip through their high notes.
  1. ‘Baby Don’t Cry’ – Written by ‘Kpop Star Season 2’ finalist Andrew Choi, this was one of the most anticipated tracks of the album.  Fans were already in love with the song after hearing it in EXO’s pre-debut teasers and were heartbroken to find it missing from their mini-album last year. Coming from SM, EXO may be a dance performance-focused group but this track definitely showcased their incredible ballad skills. Their harmonisations are absolutely top-notch and contrary to its title, I couldn’t help but cry at how beautiful the song was.
  1. ‘Black Pearl’ – Instant thought was ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ It has a great opening that starts off quiet but then escalates into a unique electronic beat, which gives a sense of action and adventure building up. The soft ethereal vocals add a feeling of romance and longing – of wanting to find that special woman who is their “beautiful black pearl” lost at sea. (Not to be mistaken though for Yuri, the nicknamed “Black Pearl” of Girls’ Generation.) I didn’t expect much from this song after hearing it in the teaser but it actually gave me a few goosebumps, which was a pleasant surprise.
  1. ‘Don’t Go’ – A light, warm track that just makes me smile every time I listen to it. Call me sappy but it reminds me of puppy love – you know that feeling you get when you first start liking someone. The lyrics are cute and in the Korean version they sing, “At your movements, I even forgot how to breathe / You’re my only beautiful butterfly” while the Chinese version croons “Hidden inside your head is the password to change extreme happiness to love.” Although somewhat generic, I love the sweet gentle melody of the song, which enables us to really hear their voices. Even the rappers/backup vocals like Kris, Chanyeol, Tao and Kai, who we generally don’t hear a lot of individual singing from, have a couple of solid solo lines.  Although they may not be as powerful as the main vocalists, they clearly know how to sing.
  1. ‘Let Out the Beast’ – Definitely a dance track. I can already imagine EXO breaking out in some awesome choreography to its addictive fast-paced electronic beat. Although primarily rap-driven, the vocals are still present enough to compliment and balance it out. The song sounds very clean and has this generic appeal to it that I personally thought it would make a better title track than ‘Wolf.’ The melody and rap sections are intertwined more cohesively together to prevent it sounding choppy and awkward and I find that the overall composition just works a lot better compared to ‘Wolf.’
  1. ‘3,6,5’ – A straight-up happy pop song that’s perfect for the upcoming summer season in Korea. Although it does sound slightly One Direction-y. Perhaps it’s EXO’s way of appealing to their international fans? Love the guitar chords – it’s a nice upbeat track that I’d probably listen to on a road trip with friends.
  1. ‘Heart Attack’ – In contrast to ‘3,6,5’ this song is a bit more subdued with a slower beat and a slightly sinister feel to it. The use of autotune is not overly excessive (thank goodness) and rather than masking their voices, it helps enhance the darker overtones of the song. The lyrics talk about being so painfully in love with someone that it feels like a heart attack, conveying a deeper more than just rainbows-and-sunshine side to love.
  1. ‘Peter Pan’ – All the Disney references just brought back all my childhood memories. The piano, drums and electric guitar work beautifully together with its pretty melody to give a magical journey feel to the song. The fairy tale concept and its lyrics, which tell the bittersweet recollection of a past relationship, are optimistic and end on a sweet ‘Never Ending Story’ note. The last lines of the Korean version translate to “It’s not going to be the end of our story / Because I’m going to meet you again” with the Chinese version stating “We still have half our story left / At some turn, fate is waiting, they definitely have a beautiful plan for us.”
  1. Baby’ – Another song that’s pure ear candy. The harmonies sound great and the dream-like beat is quite appealing but as a ballad, I didn’t feel it stood out as much compared to ‘Baby Don’t Cry.’
  1. My Lady’ – Stylistically the most different track of the album, being a bit more “bluesy.” I really love the rhythm and the slow tempo of the song – although some people may find that it drags on and can be a bit boring after a while. Since it came out in EXO’s first teaser with Kai eons ago, I actually couldn’t remember much about it but after hearing the full song, I quite like the smooth melody with the laid-back instrumental. Whilst it’s not an in-your-face punchy type of track, I find that it has a slick, subtly sexy, stylishness to it, which makes it a good finishing track to close the album.

Overall, ‘XOXO (Kiss and Hug)’ is a solid album choc-full of good songs that it’s really hard to pick favourites.

Now I’m just waiting on full versions of their other teaser songs such as ‘Time Control,’ ‘Phoenix,’ ‘Beautiful,’ ‘El Dorado,’ ‘Emergency, ‘Run and Gun’ and ‘Metal,’ which will hopefully feature on a new album they won’t make us wait another excruciating year for.

Note: I only reviewed the original release. I didn’t review the repackage album with additional tracks ‘Growl’, ‘Lucky’ and ‘XOXO’ because this review was already long enough and I don’t think the repackage albums were included in the 910,000 sales figure.

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