I’ve long believed that the NCT concept is not half as confusing as many make it out to be, but even I’m a bit stymied by this new Japanese release. Wasn’t a large selling point of NCT the idea that the brand could encompass multi-national units that each operated in different countries? If that’s so, why is 127 (the Seoul-based unit) debuting in Japan before a Japanese-based unit? It’s not that I’m complaining about getting new music from any iteration of NCT, but giving such preference towards one specific configuration seems to undermine the entire concept.
With that rant over, we can move onto Chain. SM Entertainment has been killing it with their Japanese releases lately, but this song is likely to polarize. Those looking for a more melodic, pop-influenced sound won’t find much to latch onto here. And if you thought last year’s Cherry Bomb was a bit of an experimental mess, Chain doubles down on that atonal noise. This is immediately evident from the clamoring first verse, which feels like a typical NCT track spun up in a blender. The instrumental is driven by a jarring metal-on-metal clang, like heavy pieces of machinery unforgivably dragged through a room of concrete. I’m not sure how enjoyable this is, but I guess you’ve got to give them props for trying something new.
The frustrating thing is that Chain works in fits and starts. Though hardly melodic, the hook has a strangely hypnotic, droning structure that becomes addictive with repeated listens. When the vocals are allowed to climb out of the mess, the instrumental opens up to reveal a richer (and more compelling) tone. But as with so many NCT releases, this is primarily a Taeyong and Mark show. The two trade verses while the unit’s only actual-Japanese member (Yuta) is relegated to a minor support role. It’s a baffling decision… as if Chain itself wasn’t baffling enough!