STICKER Album Review: They’ve Done it Again
Listening to STICKER is like going on a roller coaster. It serves as a massive adrenaline rush, and the thrill ride is over too fast to formulate an opinion about the ride immediately afterwards. It takes several listens to soak in, and the genius in this album is in this way of compelling the “riders” to get back in line and check it out again and again, becoming more and more immersed in its layers. The journey of learning to appreciate the busyness of this album may take time, but if it is anything like the STICKER listening experience, it will be over in the blink of an eye.
An instantly recognizable flute sound kicks off the album, along with Taeyong showing off artfully electronified vocals (a new sound coming from him) and a voice in the distance shouting “INCOMING!” The audience is told right away to prepare for a ride full of twists and turns, a message emphasized in the following tracks by the lines that come across as ad-libs. From “woof” to “vroom vroom” to “oh jeez,” their ad-libs (or at least their lyrics that masquerade as such) keep their songs wildly entertaining. Regardless of a song’s premise, NCT 127 add a bit of silliness to it that somehow enhances the song’s atmosphere instead of distracting from it. They have an ear for details that keep an audience engaged in the stories they tell, and their call-and-response-ready lines prove that.
“Lemonade” is perhaps the most NCT 127 song on STICKER. It combines light and fun lyrics with an edge, rapping and “woof”-ing in a surround-sound way over an 808s bass. The song ends abruptly, and before listeners have a chance to process what they just heard, “Breakfast” starts with a bang, keeping the feeling of a rush alive. Playful piano keys make this dance-pop, fast-paced delight extra fun. Songs like “Lemonade” and “Breakfast” emphasize how NCT 127 master the tightrope between “too much” and “not enough” noise, and this intuition is what makes their one-of-a-kind releases a thrilling surprise every time.
The high energy level of the previous tracks dips only slightly in the next several songs, when NCT 127 take advantage of the attention their opening tracks commanded to remind listeners of the vocal chops beneath the bells and whistles. Just as their sound-effect-like lyrics start to come across as overkill, they pull back from them and take a more reserved approach. “Focus” blends R&B and rap, and it contains an alluring, echoey bridge and stellar high notes. “The Rainy Night” paints a self-explanatory picture and sets the corresponding mood with its piano and strings. These songs show how for NCT 127, dialing it down does not equate to dulling it down, and their slower songs still feel fun.
For listeners who want to fantasize about the day they watch STICKER’s songs performed at an in-person concert, the latter half of the album is a treat. Listening to “Far” brings to mind singing “na na na na'' among thousands of fellow fans (aka NCTzens) and collectively belting out “FAR AWAY.” The bridge is a particularly ideal part to hear live someday, with its anthemic drums and a top-tier high note.
The next song is aptly titled “Bring The Noize,” and it demonstrates a full-throated embrace of everything noisy. From a slide whistle to the revving of engines, the instrumental is unlike any other. Further distinguishing “Bring The Noize” is the unique inflection of certain lyrics that fans of the “Limitless” era will appreciate. The pre-chorus moves at a breakneck pace and is a particularly standout feature. It is clearer than ever on this song that instead of shying away from trying out new things, NCT 127 treat experimenting with sounds as a risk worth taking.
NCT 127 lessen the crowdedness of the next song, “Magic Carpet Ride,” to show off their raw talent and beautiful harmonies.
“Road Trip '' keeps the relatively low-tempo vibe going and is lovely to listen to while imagining clapping along to it in a crowd of fellow NCTzens.
The celebratory vibe gets turned up several notches for “Dreamer,” a brass-driven number with an accompanying music video that is impossible to not smile while watching.
Lastly, “Promise You” is a synth-heavy song that ends the album with a touching tribute to NCTzens. NCT 127 keep this more emotional track from being a bore by alternating between singing and rapping and by adding several clap-along-ready sections.
The connective tissue of STICKER is its unapologetic originality and experimentation. Each song is full of color on its own, packed to the brim with unexpected combinations of raps, line deliveries, ad-libs, and instruments. Even on the few songs that are less crowded, the members manage to sound uniquely NCT 127, combining different genres and trying out different vocal deliveries. When put together, these songs form an excellent auditory collage. STICKER encourages listeners to take the time to give each song more than one chance, requiring fans and critics alike to pick up on all sorts of sonic details that make the album’s composition so rich and engaging.
The “Sticker” Music Video
The “Sticker” music video leans into some recent trends in the world of pop music, such as a cowboy aesthetic, but NCT 127 give that look a sparkly, neon-lit, explosive twist. The video is a kaleidoscope of colors and makes the rodeo theme just a small piece of an elaborate setting. “Sticker” is the perfect song from the album to get a full-length music video, as it summarizes what NCT 127’s appeal comes from: taking unique sounds, combining them with trends, and embedding their unique personalities and skill sets into the mix. They have a knack for taking anything that could be considered gimmicky and making the concept so new and distinct that only they could execute it successfully.
As detailed in previous “NCT Talk” podcast episodes, NCT’s world-building compounds their strong suits. As if their releases are not stimulating enough auditorily, the visual component takes that stimulation to another level. Whether falling in love with their glittery and leather-filled wardrobe or analyzing their videos for Easter eggs and tie-ins to the broader SM Entertainment Cinematic Universe, STICKER’s visual additions somehow manage to increase the immersiveness and joy of this release even more.
The Winning Formula
So what is the secret ingredient that keeps NCT 127’s treasure trove of sounds from becoming a hot mess? How do they turn such a vast, layered mixture of moods and sounds into a release that turns sheer noise into pop gems? It all comes down to their indescribable It Factor. They are fueled by an embrace of all musical possibilities, and by not boxing themselves in, they allow door after door of potential musical combinations to stay open. They allow themselves to explore whatever might sound good together and is worth giving a try, and by not automatically discounting the chance that certain vibes can go well together, they entertain the possibilities in which other artists doubt too much to dabble. They always manage to stay in their unique niche while constantly adding more into that niche. Their no-holds-barred approach to making music allows them to both deliver what fans anticipate from them and stay unpredictable.
NCT 127 allow a carefree, adventurous, daring attitude to envelope this album and its music videos, but they find a way to also let their voices and dance moves shine. Regardless of what catches one’s eye or ear first, they appear confident that every element of each song and video will have its time in the spotlight soon enough.
NCTzens know to expect something brand new from NCT 127 with every release, but never what that “something” is. This ambiguity is where the band thrives. Knowing that they’ve got all eyes and ears on them, they take that attention and use it to show off their musical multitudes. Just as the audience starts to form a clear impression of who the group NCT 127 is, they switch up their delivery and bring the crowd back into questioning it.
NCT 127 have worked their magic once again. STICKER is comprehensive yet overflowing with variety. From the genres to the vocal styles to the layers of sounds, the album dares to test out all sorts of combinations, and they pass this test with flying colors. The expansive concept the band is going for with this release is one that could not be pulled off by an artist less than extraordinary, and this group has proven itself to live up to that label.
Check out the new album here!