When the first fuzzy riffs of The Name Chapter: FREEFALL begin, you’re ordered to throw everything you thought you knew about TOMORROW X TOGETHER out the window.
The group challenges the conventions of K-Pop with their third studio album, exploring a slew of new genres and successfully keeping audiences on their toes. A far cry from the sugary sweetness of The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION, which left Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun and Huening Kai bidding “Farewell, Neverland,” the gritty FREEFALL greets the inevitable “Growing Pain” that follows, declaring: “Even if you bleed / Even if your bones break / Gotta make my way through this.”
Conjuring classic 90s grunge heavyweights like Pearl Jam and Hole, the El Capitxn-produced opening number finally finds TXT leaving the comfort of adolescence behind. The guitar-heavy tracks of FREEFALL read as an aural extension of The Chaos Chapter, framing ‘Growing Pain’ and ‘Skipping Stones’ (a Soobin favorite that certainly allows him to sparkle), as more evolved mates to songs like ‘Dear Sputnik’ and ‘LO$ER=LO♡ER.’
Meanwhile, ‘Chasing That Feeling’ rides the recent wave of 80s new wave nostalgia to trade past themes of love and heartbreak in for introspection and soul-searching. The quintet latches onto these older sounds as if to say they’ve officially outgrown the “teenage” part of their angst. On the title track, the battle scars that come with growing up are not only laid bare, but welcomed; no matter the hardship, the challenge itself is exciting, intoxicating even: “My fate, come and kiss me / I just keep on chasing that feeling.”
It’s not all dark and heavy, as the rock ventures are broken up by glimmers of TXT’s familiar upbeat pop sound. Seduction takes the stage on the disco-inspired single ‘Back for More,’ beckoning the group’s burgeoning sex appeal hinted at on ‘Sugar Rush Ride.’ The pre-released Anitta feature made for a unique collaboration, and though it’s an odd choice to have omitted her version, Huening Kai gets one of many moments to shine, leading the second verse in the re-worked ‘TXT Ver.’
‘Dreamer’ treads even further uncharted territory: a more sultry R&B pop, with hands-on credits for four out of five members. Jersey Club-inspired ‘Deep Down’ references the horns of puberty grown at their debut, and the energy stays bouncy for the whimsical ‘Happily Ever After,’ a TikTok-ready MAX tune whose co-writers include Taehyun and Yeonjun.
Credit is due for the nerve it takes to try a little bit of everything, but the experimentation comes at the cost of the top-to-bottom sonic cohesion found on previous efforts. The jarring transition to ‘Do It Like That’ especially takes you out of the record’s weighty story: their union with the Jonas Brothers without a doubt made for a fun summer single, but was perhaps best left as a standalone.
The themes are what really link this seemingly muddled sequence of songs together, but none capture the crux of the record quite like ‘Blue Spring.’ Previewed on this past spring’s Act: Sweet Mirage tour, the fan-oriented packs a bigger alternative punch in its studio counterpart, where Beomgyu further develops his production chops and all five members deliver some of their most powerful vocals to date. “I'll be with you every moment / You said, ‘We’re destiny’ / Without each other, can't imagine it,” Taehyun and Beomgyu belt in earnest. ‘Blue Spring’ brings the album’s themes back into focus, serving as a guiding hand for TXT’s fellow Gen Z-ers who share the same fears, hopes and dreams that amount to the process of growing up.
After all, even well into adulthood you’ll continue to find that the only way out is through, a lesson that TXT seem ready to lean into. For all the ways the future remains unclear, one thing’s for sure: with TXT, you’re invited to embrace the beauty at the heart of that uncertainty, to expect the unexpected.