Rookie by Red Velvet (SM Entertainment, 2017)
Red Velvet somewhat fumbled their previous, much anticipated follow-up of a project. The Velvet mini album from last spring muted the group’s bright ebullience of The Red, their debut full-length, from 2015, for the sake of showing more earnest seriousness. The Korean group took their edgy (red) and soft (velvet) dichotomy to heart with these two releases. Though the latter’s sincerity might be a quality good for the obligatory ballad or two, it stalled when stretched for a five-song project.
The group’s latest Rookie mini album similarly had a success to live up to. A return of color in last fall’s Russian Roulette mini album brought back the momentum from The Red and then some. They doubled down on their dumb-dumb silliness, but they took on traditional showmanship as well as a slick posing of pop cool. Rather than focusing upon one possible element of a pop unit, they put their stack of chips in a diverse pool.
The moves paid off, and Rookie carefully reaps the profits to a bring a more wrangled product. The harp-led stroll of “Little Little” glow genuinely as their shtick as much as their usual high-energy skitter of “Happily Ever After.” And “Talk to Me” is what lies in the middle of the sweeter and edgier ends of the two. This strategy to create a cohesive whole, rather than a range of exercises, yields less immediate fireworks, admittedly. But the result gets that much closer to defining the singular Red Velvet sound.
A new, very welcome exploration for Red Velvet from Rookie is “Body Talk.” Similar to the tropical house bop of “Some Love” in Russian Roulette, they’re granted a stage to flex more of their cool. But the stakes feel higher with one serious, low-lit club production to grace a RV project. They hinted at a want to bend the rules a bit to show off their personalities in “Rookie.” Here, they have to oblige to no sugary hooks. Instead, they go with a stylish, more grown flair to further reveal a new side. A few more songs in this vein, would be killer, perhaps for an imminent sophomore full-length, but for now it’ll be a tease.