‘First Romance’ is Nicole’s debut mini-album and it is all things French, from the core romantic theme, to its funky musical tone. Containing various collaborations, with the likes of Spica and Teen Top’s Ricky, she has created a colourful document that never falls short of being utterly compelling. This is a late contender for album of the year, but then again, better late than never, because it really is something special.
- Innocent (Feat. Spica)
Opening with ‘Innocent’, a 1990’s trip-hop overture, this has a particularly sensual and un-K-pop mood that is part Massive Attack, part ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’ by Throbbing Gristle. It is a sparse, spacey wave of synthesizers with the vocals spoken and whispered almost at random, setting the distinct tone of the album in a very cool manner.
The mini-album’s lead single, ‘Mama’ is not unlike Stevie Wonder’s ‘Don’t You Worry About a Thing’, with its upbeat and soulful funky kick. Sung partly in French, this is manifest furthermore through the trotting organ sound and bouncing mood of the back-up musicians.
- 7-2=오해 (Feat. Dongwoo of Infinite)
If Serge Gainsbourg was a K-Pop singer, this is probably what he might sound like. ‘7-2=오해’ is a serene promenade that has a dash of his dark undertone, only contrasted with a sugary exterior, giving me the impression that Nicole is doing her version of Onew’s ‘In Your Eyes’, or f(x)’s ‘Sorry Daddy’. It is part melancholic skin moisturiser commercial, part sweet ballad and all brilliance.
- Joker (Feat. Ricky)
The Little Mermain meets Metronmy, ‘Joker’ is driven by a xylophone and neat little groove, which culminates in a passionate and marvellously addictive chorus. The highlight however, is the accordion solo, which does a light battle with Teen Top’s Ricky, only for Nicole to capitalise on this, by re-entering the equation with her majestic vocal strength that flows like a breeze.
For some reason, ‘Love’ created an image in my head of a K-Drama set in outer space. It is driven by a gentle piano, yet it has a slight subtle sci-fi lilt, which becomes apparent as the song hits its midpoint. Fans of the heartfelt second half of Brown Eyed Girls’ Sound G will find much in ‘Love’ to fall for and as the song slowly draws to its conclusion, the Vince Guaraldi-esque jazzy sign off contributes so much to the overall quality, by choosing to end on an intentionally messy note.
‘First Romance’ is a short, sweet collection of songs that seldom fall short of being quite beautiful. With a modest cinematic quality, this has set the bar very high for Nicole as she begins her solo career. However, this fact does not worry me in the slightest as she has shown her confident, strong and original vocal abilities already in a mere twenty minutes.