Album Review: BTS – Map Of The Soul: 7

A new BTS album is a major event – does 7 live up to the hype? Let’s go track by track!

It’s taken me a while to get this review out, largely because it’s taken me a while to figure out how I feel about this album. BTS are the most popular kpop act at the moment so any new music from them is going to have sky-high expectations, plus they’re one of my favourite groups, plus it’s been quite a while since their last release, plus they’ve been teasing us and building hype with some pre-release songs… all of this had me very excited for the album. Look, since the release, I’ve seen so many fans gushing over this album and saying it’s one of BTS’s best, and I wish I felt the same way, but to be honest… my feelings on the album are a bit more mixed. Let’s get into the tracks and talk about why.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the songs that were carryovers from Persona, so I’ll just mention them briefly.
Intro: PersonaFun display of RM’s skills with an old-school sound.
Boy With LuvLegendary bop, according to Spotify this was my 2nd most listened song of 2019.
Make It Right I get that this was kind of a single but it was my least favourite on Persona so I can’t help but be a little salty that it made it on here but the clearly superior Mikrokosmos and HOME did not.
Jamais VuAgain, not my favourite from Persona but I get that it’s a unit song and its inclusion means that every member appears on an equal number of tracks on this album. It’s cute.
DionysusAbsolute banger with fantastic staging, I wish a few more tracks on this album had this sound. I love rock Bangtan.

Track 6 – Interlude: Shadow

This track impressed me when it was first released, I enjoy this kind of emo rap, and in the context of the album it makes for an effective transition into the darker “shadow” side of the record. I’m not sure if the extra verse added in the album version was strictly necessary, but the lyrical callback to No More Dream is effective. I would say the lyrics are this song’s strongest asset; Suga ruminating on the struggles and fears that come with success, the idea that he’s achieved his dreams, but it hasn’t fulfilled him the way he expected. I’m also a fan of this track’s intense, distorted outro, it’s one of the best uses of vocal processing on the album.

Track 7 – Black Swan

I was not at all a fan of this song when it first came out, and while I have warmed up to it a little, I still can’t say I love it. It’s the type of dreary, autotune-smothered trap that I just find boring and more generic than I would expect from BTS. I do appreciate the lyrical themes of becoming detached from your passions, and I can even kind of see how the musical component of the song complements the lyrical aspect, but I’m pretty lukewarm on this one.

Track 8 – Filter

Jimin hits us with a flirty and playful Latin-infused solo track. I enjoy the energy of this song and it’s a sound that BTS hasn’t often explored before. Jimin gives a really charismatic performance here, but I do think his voice can sound a bit strained and overly processed at times. The song sounds mostly upbeat, though there is some depth to the lyrics as Jimin sings about how he feels he needs to be whatever others want him to be. Not my favourite Jimin solo, but pretty good.

Track 9 – My Time

Jungkook’s solo reflects on how he’s spent such a huge part of his life as an idol, and has missed out on a lot of the normal experiences of growing up. I enjoy the soaring chorus and the melodies and vocals on this track, but I do find the beat a little boring, and kpop idols really need to stop misusing the word “finna” like this.

Track 10 – Louder than bombs

This dark and atmospheric track is one of my favourites. I really like the moody, swirling synth textures, as well as the piercing vocals and beguiling melody here. RM’s verse is a standout here, his voice really complements this sound. Troye Sivan and Allie X were co-writers here and I can definitely feel their influence; as a fan of both artists, I’m into it.

Track 11 – ON

Still not totally in love with this title track – their vocals are too processed! There’s so many elements to the instrumental that they just end up drowning each other out! – but I can appreciate it. It’s BIG and makes for a fantastic performance piece.

Track 12 – UGH!

Ooh, here we go, a hard hitting rap line banger in the vein of the Cyphers or Ddaeng. As a rap line fan I always enjoy these fiery and aggressive cuts from them, and they do kind of go off here as they rage against haters. My bias j-hope really shines here, playing with his voice in interesting ways and sounding uncannily like Danny Brown during the bridge. Song slaps.

Track 13 – 00:00 (Zero O’Clock)

We cool things down a bit with the vocal line song, which has one of the strongest and most immediately catchy melodies on the album. There’s a real sweetness to this track, with lyrics about finding comfort at the end of hard days by holding on to hope that the next day will be happier, and the vocals are great, if a little overly processed (I know I keep complaining about this but it keeps being an issue!)

Track 14 – Inner Child

V gets quite possibly my favourite solo on the album, a really beautiful anthemic track. Of all the songs on the album, this song, about reminiscing about the past and one’s younger self, is the one that most emotionally resonates with me; I’ve gotten close to choking up a few times while listening to this, particularly during that gorgeous bridge. A definite standout.

Track 15 – Friends

A cute, bouncy unit song about Jimin and V’s friendship. This song is pretty adorable lyrically and I enjoy the way Jimin and V’s voices contrast. I especially like the drums that lead into the chorus, as well as Jimin’s delivery of “hello, my alien”. I do have some quibbles with the production here, but this is a fun, lightweight song. VMin stans are eating.

Track 16 – Moon

I’ve mentioned my issues with the production on this album already, and I think those issues might be most pronounced on this Jin solo. Jin has a lovely voice, but it sounds so processed and compressed on this track, especially during the chorus. I do like the background “oo-woo-oo” vocals, and the lyrics are a sweet tribute to the fans, but this should sound way better than it does.

Track 17 – Respect

As a rap line fan, this unit song from RM and Suga should appeal to me, but honestly it might be my least favourite on the album. Suga overuses vocal effects here to the point where it becomes pretty grating and obnoxious, and the autotune doesn’t really mesh with the beat’s more old-school sound. It’s a skip for me.

Track 18 – We are Bulletproof: the Eternal

Well, we all know what song’s going to be the closer at all of their concerts for their upcoming tour! This will be a big tearjerker in a live setting, I can tell. A lovely tribute to their bond, their history, and especially to ARMY. This song is incredibly sweet, almost to the point of being a bit overly syrupy. Lyrics aside, it’s not the most interesting or engaging listen, but this song still hits the mark.

Track 19 – Outro: Ego

I actually enjoyed this way more as a standalone track than I do in the context of the album. It doesn’t really work as a closer, and feels weird to listen to straight after The Eternal, to the point where I usually just end up not listening to it as part of the album. But on its own, it’s a great Hobi song, really fun and energetic and uplifting. Love the song, hate the placement on the album.

Bonus Track – ON (Feat. Sia)

I’m pretty baffled as to how they managed to make Sia sound this bad. Doesn’t seem like it should be possible, but here we are.

Final Thoughts

I will admit, the first time I listened to this album I found it to be an utter disappointment, with a lack of catchiness and many of the songs blending together and failing to stand out. The album has definitely grown on me since then, but I do still have my share of issues with it.

I’ve mentioned it quite a few times, but a major issue I have is the mixing and production, particularly of the vocals. One of BTS’s strengths is that every member has a really unique and beautiful voice, but so often on this album those voices are smothered by vocal processing when they don’t need to be, and end up sounding flat and compressed.

I also think the sequencing here feels a bit off and that some of these tracks suffer from a lack of identity; many of these songs have a ton of different co-writers and composers, and it can lead to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation.

Another issue I have is that, of the fourteen new tracks on the album, only four feature the entire group. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate solos and unit songs, but there’s a good chance this will be the last album BTS releases before enlistment begins; this may be the last opportunity we have to hear all seven members together for a long time. And the album is called 7, so I was kind of hoping to hear more songs featuring all seven of them.

With all of that said, I do still enjoy this album. There’s quite a few standout tracks and a lot of the lyrics are interesting and well done. This is a good album, and I am proud of BTS and what they’ve accomplished, but I know they are capable of better. To me, this sadly just isn’t their best work.

Final Rating: 3.5/5

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