Album Review: Girls' Generation - Girls' Generation II ~Girls & Peace~

Album Review: Girls' Generation - Girls' Generation II ~Girls & Peace~ | Random J Pop

Around the time of Girls & Peace’s release, Girls’ Generation’s sound was in a bit of a rut. And so was their image. When SM Entertainment debuted the group in 2007 they were teenagers, and SM locked the girls into this image for years and struggled to grow them out of it. Even by the time they disbanded went on hiatus, their image was still that of girls. This was also reflected in their material, which struggled to transition effectively as a result of SM Entertainment going to extremes (i.e “The Boys”, “I Got a Boy”).

Girls’ Generation would not land the ideal image and sound with a Korean release, but their first Japanese one, and it made sense to do this. SM Entertainment could use Japan as a testing ground of sorts. Capitalising on Girls’ Generations popularity and short but already prolific history as K-Pop megastars, but without the history or the expectations.

Girls’ Generation’s debut Japanese album was seen by some as bland, but for me it signalled a direction that Girls’ Generation needed to move in with their Korean releases. And it wouldn’t be the first time that SM would throw a group into the Japanese market and have them release something which works so well that they carry it back into their Korean releases and give them a much needed jolt. TVXQ did it. BoA did it. Although it did take BoA YEARS before it actually clicked and SM backed off and left her to her own devices.

But Girls & Peace though? SM did something different here. Or rather, they did the right thing, but in the wrong order and at the wrong time.

Album Review: Girls' Generation - Girls' Generation II ~Girls & Peace~ | Random J Pop

Girls & Peace sounds and looks like it should have come before their first Japanese album (which was surprisingly good by the way). Girls’ Generation’s first album sought to try and push a more grown and global sound onto Girls’ Generation...and have that be it. Comparatively, Girls & Peace does a better job of bridging the sound between what Girls’ Generation were known for in Korea and a new more dance driven sound that would give them a more competitive edge in a larger music market. But the end result is an album, which despite having a clearer intent of how it wants to position and identify the group, doesn’t feature enough killer material to sell Girls’ Generation’s history or their future.

Girls’ Generation’s Japanese debut had songs which were genuinely quite thrilling to listen to, because you were hearing Girls’ Generation on styles of songs you hadn’t heard them on before and they sounded really fucking good. I will never not get over how good a song “The Great Escape” was. Who thought Girls’ Generation giving a Janet Jackson serve would work so well?! But Girls & Peace just retreads everything Girls’ Generation have done before without really refining it. And this even includes their first Japanese album. “Animal” and “Reflection” are really good songs. “Reflection” is so good in fact, that if I were SM, I woulda been lobbying for a song like it to be a lead song over in Korea. It features enough of a happy-go-lucky bounce that you’d expect from a Girls’ Generation song, but sounds like it’s moving them out of the cutesy bubble-gum territory without feeling like the hard pivot out of it that “The Boys” was.

One of the weakest things about of Girls’ Generation’s Japanese album was the inclusion of the Korean songs. “Gee” and “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)” are not only 2 of perhaps the greatest K-Pop songs of all time, but they are just great pop songs. However, the Japanese versions are terrible. The rhythmic patterns of the originals are completely butchered, and Girls’ Generation’s Japanese wasn’t smooth nor fluent enough at the time they recorded it, so there’s no sense of relaxation or confidence in how they sing either song. Both songs also threw the sound of the album off because they sounded nothing like anything else on the album. literally every other song on the album. “Gee” and “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)” would have fit Girls & Peace far better and done a better job of selling the groups’ history. But that’s retrospect and hindsight for you. How well both of these songs would have fit here also highlights the kind of album Girls & Peace wants to be, and why SM should have sought to release this type of album in Japan first instead. But because they couldn’t plain or see the obvious, we ended up with a second album which shoulda been the first, but doesn’t feature enough of the right stuff to be a particularly solid record either way.

The inclusion of Korean singles works far better on this album because Girls & Peace seems to be making a conscious effort to work Girls’ Generation’s Korean sound into their Japanese sound. Where-as the inclusion of Korean singles on their first Japanese album was purely because those were songs the group were most known for, so they couldn’t NOT include them. I think we can all agree that “Oh!” was nowhere near as good a song as “Gee” and “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)”. But I also think we can agree that of the 3 songs, “Oh!” made the best jump over into Japanese. Girls & Peace does hold the honour of featuring a song which was reworked for a Korean release. The song “Boomerang” from Girls & Peace is “Talk Talk” on Girls’ Generation 4th Korean studio album I got a Boy. And dare I say it, the Japanese version is better, despite the Korean version being recorded first years ago, circa 2008.

Album Review: Girls' Generation - Girls' Generation II ~Girls & Peace~ | Random J Pop

I don't know why I'm dedicating a paragraph to the vocals of Girls' Generation when 6 out of the 9 members barely sing and only 3 of them have decent voices, but here I am. As was the case with Girls' Generation's first Japanese album, the vocal production here is decent. I still would have liked more moments where I can hear all 9 members singing together and giving me harmonies, but I get that SM had to watch the budget and couldn't be sending all 9 members to the studio, just for half of them to sing, and that some members were more proficient in Japanese than others. And then Jessica. Lawd. She REALLY stands out on a lot of these songs. Often-times Jessica's parts end up being the best because of the energy she brings. So if you are a Jessica fan, then you're gonna get your entire life with this album.

Album Review: Girls' Generation - Girls' Generation II ~Girls & Peace~ | Random J Pop

Given how much of a priority that Girls’ Generation was for SM Entertainment, it’s baffling that they didn’t do a better job of Girls & Peace, especially after the promising first Japanese, which was better than any of the albums they'd released in Korea at that point.

The worst thing is that Girls & Peace isn’t even a bad album. It’s exactly what I’d expect from Girls’ Generation. But this is also the problem, given that my expectations for the group were already low. This is what made their first album such a surprise to me. Nothing about this Girls & Peace wows, surprises or gives any sense of the group actually evolving or rediscovering themselves. I guess it does a decent enough job of connecting to their Korean sound and discography, without featuring a dump of reworked songs on it. But is this enough from a group who after 5 years and a string of releases should have their shit a bit more together? 

Album Review: Girls' Generation - Girls' Generation II ~Girls & Peace~ | Random J Pop

Girls & Peace is an unessential album. This isn’t just because of the material, but because it’s such a watered down and slapdash execution of something which should have been a walk in the park and a huge turning point for Girls' Generation. Their first album signalled something new, which intrigued me. But I played myself. Because, SM.

Girls & Peace, features a whole lotta filler, but at least feels like it’s trying to balance what were two opposing sides of Girls’ Generation’s sound on the last album. Girls’ Generation fans will still enjoy this album though, perhaps more than their Korean albums. And with the songs on Girls & Peace which hit the mark, fans will inevitably feel a type of way that SM should do a better job with their Korean singles / lead releases, which is tea.

VERDICT: Jessica spotted at the baggage claim

■ Animal 🔥
■ Reflection 🏆
■ Boomerang
■ All My Love Is For You
■ Girls & Peace