More or less, you know what to expect from your favorite boy band: Backstreet Boys give us straight-forward bubblegum; One Direction embraces ’80s-tinged, rock-pop hooks; and you can count on incredible choreography no matter what genre TVXQ! try to conquer. On the K-pop scene, EXO is now the male group to beat, currently holding the record for highest-charting album by Korean boy bands on the Billboard 200. Their second full-length album Exodus — following 2013’s XOXO, which broke records in Korea — is an ambitious record that shows the group isn’t ready to be pinned down just yet.
EXO could have presented themselves as a lovelorn boy band like most do, but instead the 10-member oufit are willing to not only get romantic, but also dark, sensual and aggressive — looks boy bands typically stay away from — on its best tracks.
Despite the ambition, several tracks feel like they need an extra oomph and fall victim to mediocricy than impression making or solidifying any type of identity. For all of Exodus‘ hooks, one would think they would stick with the listener better.
For their efforts and attempts to push boy-band boundaries, EXO should be applauded. Exodus is one of the more ambitious full-lengths for a boy band in recent years. But past the standouts, a lot of these songs fail to make much of an impression on the listener.
Currently, industry forecasters suggest the album could sell between 3,000-4,000 copies in the week ending April 5. Take a listen through the track with our track-by-track review below and see where it lands on the charts next week.
1. “Call Me Baby” – Inspired by the golden era of late ’90s/early ’00s pop, “Call Me Baby” is what one can imagine *NSYNC sounding like today. That is, if JT & Co. rapped and were really into genre mashing. From the handful of hooks to its smashing beats, the different sonic pieces of “Call Me Baby” feel like they could fit inside different parts of various boy band releases through the years. But when their (now-signature) “E-X-O!” line comes in, you know they’ve taken control of the track with a rap-heavy, dance break down that includes unexpected samples and shrieking harmonies.
2. “Transformer” – Helmed by super-producers Stereotypes (Danity Kane‘s “Damaged,” Justin Bieber‘s “Somebody to Love”), the track keeps the energy going from the opening track with its military drums, ominous horns and fuzzy synth lines. A knocking pop banger, no doubt, but feels like expected territory for EXO. A somewhat played out “tick-tick, boom-boom, bout to blow!” chorus line feels like a cheesy attempt for a conceptual song that a lesser boy band would release — maybe from some of the early ’00s groups that never really made their mark like 5ive or O-Town.
3. “What If…” – Already on cut No. 3, we’re starting to see unexpected sides of EXO. The outfit starts getting sensual on this knocking mid-tempo with atmopsheric synths and “Erotic City”-esque beats with the track more or less sounding like its been plucked from a mid-’00s R&B album. In fact, the similarities to Tyrese‘s 2002 hit “How You Gonna Act Like That” are uncanny to the point that they’d perfectly blend in a mashup.
4. “My Answer” – There isn’t much to describe “My Answer” as other than a typical piano, but that doesn’t mean it’s a snoozefest. Members Suho and Baekhyun shine on the chorus as their band members offer swoon-worthy harmonies and “oohs” in the background. But D.O steals the show with a spotlight-grabbing belt on the final chorus.
5. “Exodus” – There’s a naughty, mysterious feeling here with the creeping piano line, subtle horn blasts and surging synths as the guys talk about a girl being their gateway drug into a new world of love. If “Call Me Baby” was EXO playing up an *NSYNC sound, “Exodus” would be the outfit playing up one of the more “bad boy” bands of the same era like the tattooed guys of 98 Degrees or the smooth, innuendo-driven pop of Soul Decision.
6. “El Dorado” – Another fascinating side of the band is heard here as the guys dive into a world of ominious, tribal chants and big pop hooks. It’s not something you’d imagine a Western boy band pulling off, making “El Dorado” not only an undeniable staple song not only for the album, but in EXO’s overall discography. Plus, there’s no way that the line where the guys boast about all 10 fingers to the sky, claiming “we are one” isn’t a delcaration that the current 10-member lineup will remain strong even after losing original members Kris and Luhan last year.
7. “Playboy” – Boasting some of the best melodies of the album, “Playboy” is based around staccato-heavy lines that are smoothed out by drawn-out soulful coos. The harmonies and raps fit perfectly in this ’90s groove with a vocal highlight coming from Baekhyun on the final chorus.
8. “Hurt” – A aggresive electro-pop stomper, the track shines on its earworm of a chorus and surging dance breakdown ahead of the bridge, but the track feels a bit lackluster compared to other standouts.
9. “Lady Luck” – Opening with a beatbox-driven production, the understated dedication to their “Lady Luck” is probably the most mature-sounding track on the record with its production that slighty recalls TLC‘s “No Scrubs.” The guys’ raps are more seductive and the belts are more heartfelt ever. There’s an unexpected, very cool glitch-pop breakdown on the bridge that mixes electronic bleeps and boops with female moans. It feels like an attempt to show a more mature side of EXO and, while not 100 percent believeable, is very close to being there.
10. “Beautiful” – A dreamy, synth-pop track that’s sure to make fans swoon as the guys repeat multiple times how beautiful their love interest is. The chorus is a little quirky with its woozy electronica flourishes making this rise above a cheesy album closer.