MAMAMOO – ‘Mic ON’ review: a brief yet commanding return to form

After a string of unremarkable releases, the quartet finally strike the balance between trendiness and their own sonic identity

In the past few years, MAMAMOO have taken slow, steady strides from the vocal-heavy performances of their early years to lighter, disco-inspired releases akin to their peers’ in the 2020s. It’s a move that’s resulted in more misses than hits. Opinions on 2019’s ‘gogobebe’ remain pretty divided, while 2021’s ‘mumumumuch’ felt out of place in the greatest hits compilation it was released with, a forgettable addition to an album designed to showcase the quartet’s legacy.

MAMAMOO’s latest release, ‘Mic ON’, continues to draw on wider industry trends, but it marks a return to form for the quartet. It flaunts the confident sonic identity that endeared them to many without downplaying the lighter, groovier sound they adapted to.

Title track ‘ILLELLA’ kicks the door down with bright ad libs and rich vocals over a powerful reggaeton instrumental punctuated by guitar riffs and resounding percussion. Given her involvement in producing the track, it’s no surprise that Moonbyul’s performance stands out the most here. She weaves between fiery raps and sultry vocals, describing a passionate affair: “Leaning against the moonlight / You and I bundled up / Hearts about to burst.

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As a whole, though, ‘ILLELLA’ feels underwhelming. The track, which runs shy of three minutes, doesn’t leave much room to properly build up to the pitch shift in the final chorus and ultimately sounds rushed and incomplete. And while the hook of “Illella hae, illella, ille, yeah” is sufficiently attention-grabbing at first, it starts to sound monotonous by the time the second half of the song rolls around.

Fortunately, the two other tracks on ‘Mic ON’ make for more cohesive and fleshed-out listening experiences. The record’s catchy opener ‘1,2,3 Eoi!’ – named for MAMAMOO’s battle cry before they perform on stage – drums up excitement for the rest of the project. A masterful mix of electro and hip-hop elements, it juxtaposes Solar’s silky vocals with rich, rhythmic verses from the rest of the group. Solar crooning “I say MAMA-MAMA-MOO” isn’t just a cheeky reference to the group’s introductory jingle, it also adds a smooth, jazzy texture that complements the chants in the chorus.

For a record that seems to revisit MAMAMOO’s sonic roots, it’s only fitting ‘Mic ON’ conclude with a track that draws heavily from their signature sound. Borrowing a snippet of 2015 hit ‘Um Oh Ah Yeh’, upbeat nu-disco track ‘L.I.E.C.’ throws down a beat and punches it up with the group’s signature soulful vocals. Wheein and Solar’s rich, charismatic voices are at the forefront of ‘L.I.E.C.’, inviting listeners to let loose in a refrain powered by harmonic hooks: “Let’s all get together / Put the phonе down for a while / Grab a taxi, ride, let’s ridе / Eat and drink, I’m feeling alive.

Between the release of a greatest hits album and a founding member of MAMAMOO leaving their management agency, the year leading up to the release of ‘Mic ON’ filled fans (this reviewer included) with apprehension for the group’s future. But it feels like a break from making music as a full unit was just what MAMAMOO needed to make a record like ‘Mic ON’. Perhaps the insights they’ve gleaned from focusing on their solo releases helped them shift their focus from cutesy, forgettable tunes to substantial songs that make the most out of their vocal strength and fiery personalities.

It might be a while more before we see a new MAMAMOO release that truly pushes the envelope (think 2016’s ‘Décalcomanie’ or 2018’s ‘Egotistic’), but ‘Mic ON’ is a strong attempt to recreate the excellence of their early work.

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MAMAMOO - Mic On

  • Release date: October 11
  • Record label: RBW
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