NCT 127 has officially wrapped up their comeback for this year with the repackage album, “Regulate” – which is essentially their previous album, “Regular-Irregular” but with 3 new tracks. I was waiting for a repackage before fully delving into a review and I must say, I am not disappointed at all.
Being NCT 127’s first full length album since their debut in 2016, there were definitely expectations for SM Entertainment’s current favourite boy group. Judging from the amount of promotions they got with video teasers of “Regular Dream” and my personal favourite, “Irregular Office” – it was clear that SM wanted to hype up this release. The album also was set in 2 parts; the first half being the ‘regular’ songs that shared a bright and somewhat happier sound, while the latter brought out the gritty and experimental.
This time around, NCT 127 welcomed a new member into their arms; the group that consisted of leader Taeyong, Mark, Taeil, Jaehyun, Winwin, Yuta, Haechan, Doyoung, and Johnny now had a new addition of Jungwoo.
We first got a glimpse of him in NCT U’s Boss earlier this year, along with the debut of Lucas. Fans were curious to see how this addition would change NCT 127 as a unit, as things were quite solidified with a consistent line up for the past 2 comebacks of “Limitless” and “Cherry Bomb”.
As a comeback title track, it would not be fair to call “Regular” a letdown. It was a good song, the Latin infused trap number that was teased in video trailers before the release was definitely something to get your groove on to—but it fell flat.
NCT 127 has always been experimenting with things that were out of the ordinary, tackling the genres that baffle listeners and including the most curious of sounds into their tracks. From their debut of “Firetruck”, to the eerie “Limitless” and the radical “Cherry Bomb”; NCT 127 always pushed boundaries (and buttons) with their sound. Even for their Japanese EP this year, “Chain” was a clanging, cacophonous nightmare of a beat disguised as a song.
So how did “Regular” end up being so… regular?
The rest of the album however, is fairly decent. Beginning with “City 127”, we are greeted with the lovely harmonies of the vocal line. Starting off on a gentle note, we slowly make our way through the album. “Replay (PM 01:27)” is the sibling of “Back 2 U (AM01:27)” from their previous EP, “Limitless”—but they do not share similar qualities at all. While “Back 2 U” was a slow, almost R&B like track with harmonies tying everything together, “Replay” is a party in comparison. We hear the relatable lyric of “I just want to be loved” being repeated as the house music takes over.
“Welcome To My Playground” is the first new track we are introduced to on the repackage. Frankly, I was disappointed when the song begun as I was expecting something more NCT 127 flavoured. With the title easily being read as something more sinister (remember their take on “If you’re happy and you know, it clap your hands”?), it could have been a far more powerful track. That did not seem to be the case, as it turned out to be a rather bright and calming number. Much like the few songs before it, “Welcome To My Playground” fits in well with the bubbly nature of the first half of the album (though, it could have easily been on an NCT Dream album as well!).
With so many members, it’s hard to remember that NCT 127 actually are blessed with talented vocalists. “Knock On” is a lovely reminder of that, where we really hear each member showcase their sweet crooning. “No Longer” too is a vocally driven song; an emotional ballad that touches on heartbreak. It was especially satisfying to hear Taeil and Doyoung finally belting the high notes, which they hit effortlessly.
We then arrive at the midpoint of the album; the interlude. The track starts off with what seems like classical musical instruments of piano and violin. “Interlude: Regular to Irregular” is split into various languages with Doyoung speaking in Korean, Yuta in Japanese, Winwin in Chinese and Johnny in English.
Then of all the sudden, the track starts to play in reverse. This is perhaps the most psychedelic part of the album, where it literally feels like you are listening to a nightmare. It does however, tie up the idea of it being ‘a dream within a dream’. Despite it being an absolutely hair raising experience, it marks the beginning of the irregular part of the album.
After being treated to such soft and slow songs—it was time for NCT 127 to show us what they really had in store. If the interlude wasn’t enough, “My Van” would certainly catch you off-guard. Being a more rap dominated track, the instrumentals is definitely in the typical gritty NCT 127 fashion.
The nature of the song though, is curious in the sense that it makes the listener feel that they’re trapped in a moment of a dream. There is a sense of imminent doom that just lurks in the corners of the track, even more so with the unsettling way of how it slows down and starts back again.
Then we come to the title track of the repackage, “Simon Says”. Words cannot explain how immensely satisfying it was the moment the song started. Everything about it screamed NCT 127; the chaotic combination of sounds, the heavy throbbing bass, the almost comical throw of English phrases, and of course, the experimental amalgamation of it all. Even though NCT 127 may want to try different concepts (with “Touch” being a primary example), it is evident that they flourish with this sound. “Simon Says” exceeds all expectations of what a NCT 127 title track should be; an almost headache inducing pandemonium.
Next up we have the Korean version of “Come Back”, which was originally a Japanese release. Coincidentally being my favourite track off that EP, “Come Back” uses the heavy techno-synth sound that is reminiscent of SHINee’s early days. Incorporating the sounds with more NCT 127 friendly beats and a break for Mark and Taeyong’s rap; the track does not disappoint.
“Fly Away With Me” was surprisingly a slow number in comparison. Its calming nature and tender vocals in the chorus is deeply appreciated after the aggressive assault of the previous tracks. Being the second last song off the album, perhaps this is the ‘regular’ send off track before bidding listeners goodbye towards the ‘irregular’ one.
This repackage also included the Korean version of “Chain”, the title track of the Japanese EP. We now have the infamous cacophonous calamity in 2 languages instead of one; both a blessing and a curse. Speaking of dual languages, the English version of “Regular” is always a fun one to listen to—especially with lyrics like “I be walking with the cheese, that’s the queso”. Lyrically, it is a rather typically arrogant track to flex on their haters—which to be fair, NCT 127 has earned the right to do so. However, it still delivers as great dance track. Personally, I feel that Haechan’s line of “popping out casket fresh, looking like a fashion show” deserves to win an award alone.
The album ends with a bonus track that was in the works since most of the members were mere trainees; “Run Back 2 U”. It is almost comforting to hear this song and feel NCT 127’s colour ooze from it, even from back when they haven’t even debuted. Combining their refreshing dance beats with—unsurprisingly—unsettling noises, “Run Back 2 U” wraps up the entire album perfectly and closes the show in a typical NCT 127 fashion.
All in all, “Regulate” was definitely the seal of approval that “Regular-Irregular” needed. The addition of “Welcome To My Playground”, “Simon Says” and the Korean version of “Chain” spiced up the original album just right. With NCT 127 coming through with a full length record, we can only speculate when we shall see similar results from NCT Dream or perhaps even the ever mysterious NCT U.
NCT 127 will always be that mixed bag you’ll never know what to expect in K-pop, and it’s one that I gladly look forward to every comeback.
Album Review by Leyasheena Panicker.