Thus far, NCT’s 2018 Empathy project has followed a somewhat uniform sound, with even the usual bright styling of NCT Dream swept up in a trap-driven badass concept. Once it was announced that NCT 127 would be the next unit to release a single, all signs pointed to a continuation of this sound. But SM being SM, they couldn’t resist balking expectations and giving the guys their most pop-infused comeback yet. And while the group has delivered superior versions of this concept on past albums, Touch comes at the perfect time to display their versatility.
With past comebacks, I’ve complained that 127 spent so much energy shining focus on their rappers that they forgot their excellent vocal line. Touch certainly fixes that, with a strong focus on harmony placed over an uncluttered arrangement. Its overall vibe recalls the r&b side of agency mates SHINee, though it never pulses with the kind of energy you would expect from a traditional SM title track. Instead, the song bops along a future synth assisted beat, functioning as much more of a head-nodder than an all-out dance assault. Maybe that’s why Touch feels more like an above average b-side than a promoted single.
But even if the song may lack some initial impact, the strength of its performance will likely have enduring appeal. Its opening verse is largely forgettable, offering ample space for the group’s impressive vocals but never settling on a melody that feels more than a (very pretty) placeholder. This changes once the first chorus emerges in all its harmony-drenched glory. Delivered at a high register, the ebullient hook pulls in a touch of funk. The vocal layering is exquisite, and reveals yet another level of potential for the group. From this point onward, Touch grooves with an addictive energy and thrilling sense of unpredictability. The instrumental could still use a bit more punch, but NCT completely sell the upbeat sentiment.