I will discuss first impressions, individuals songs in order they appear on the album–rating them on a scale of 0-5 with 5 as the best and 3 as average, and then generalize my opinions for the entire album at the end.
Justin Bieber. If he produced an album in Japan, this is roughly what it would sound like. Perhaps a little less electronic and more guitar, sickly-sweet ballads, but still, The First is so boy-next-door, soft-core catchy, crooning for noona / puppy-love crushes. This struck me as very immature for a group with a mature sound by now, in both voice and personality.
Terrible English. Terrible. Terrible. The decision to make a song about a seesaw metaphor? Terrible. There is absolutely nothing romantic or glamorous about a seesaw. Even remotely.
The song and music video were totally okay by me (read my original review here). Japanese was awkward, especially Minho’s rapping part, but what can you really do? Excepting Key, none of them speak very well, and S.M. is not exactly bending over backwards to establish SHINee as true jpop. Though, as I said before, this track has better sound engineering than the Korean version; some beautiful bass details are clearer and we can hear better layering of voices.
I thought I misheard when Jonghyun sang “You’re like ice cream.” Okay. Sure. Then, the bomb hit me. “You’re the hottest ice cream ninja.”
As much as I love SHINee, er. I have to say, this is one of the most terrible lyric transcriptions I have ever heard. Probably the worst. I would have less of a problem if they had sung, “You’re the hottest sexiest guuurl,” despite SHINee’s rather innocent image. They actually did say “sexy” in the original Korean version; moreover, if there was someone singing the word “sexy”, naturally there would be more fangirls / fanboys swooning. And, the biggest plus of all, it would actually make sense.
I refrain from commenting.
Probably the ‘ballad’ in this upbeat album. Even so, it is rather upbeat and has so many synths that I do not really think that it deserves ballad status; they could have gotten rid of some of the synths and kept the bare minimum with the piano riff that opens the beginning. Sometimes I forget in the middle of the chorus it is actually in a minor key and that is actually supposed to be a ballad. It also bothers me that they sing “bettUR bettUR” in the chorus.
Opened by Taemin. I am not complaining, because Jonghyun gets to sing “I’m blessed” with his usual good emoting. I have noticed that Jonghyun usually gets relegated the English parts, especially in S.M. The Ballad; I am not entirely sure if it is intentional because Jonghyun’s English pronunciation is probably the worst in the group. The chorus is very heavily Jonghyun, yet for this reason, I do not like it, it sounds a bit too nasal and not smooth enough for ballad. Jonghyun does his characteristic wailing, but I have heard it in this style so many times that it sounds quite normal and not special enough to call out and appreciate. As usual, Onew takes the lower parts, even when both Onew and Jonghyun have repeatedly demonstrated they are both capable of doing both high and low parts. S.M. must step them out of tried-and-true comfort zones, that is how they will grow as performers, ultimately.
To Your Heart [listen]
One of the songs that I play on heavy rotation nowadays. It is an absolutely adorable song that reminds me a bit of Justin Bieber’s “Love Me.” Though perhaps “Love Me” is a bit more straight-laced in terms of beat, it has that same cute, earnest aura, in the chorus especially.
The beginning bothers me; it takes too long to get to the song itself: “whoosh whoosh whoosh few pretty synths Taemin to to to todoke to to to to your heart random Jonghyun wailing [repeat 2x] Onew heart heart heart.” After that long saga, I expect great emotive Jonghyun opening! No, wait, Taeminnie. Cool. I guess.
The bridge (2.05s) also disappoints. It falls flat. The purpose of a bridge is to build into the climax and tension of the song and then when the chorus returns, the listener feels happy and resolved and secure. Instead, the stripped down synths during the bridge just kind of took away the momentum of the song completely and I was so happy when the synths came in again for a chorus repeat to save me from the awkward emptiness of the bridge. I am also sorry to say, Key makes the bridge the most awkward, because he kind of slides into the note nasally and for a few fleeting seconds, I am thinking, “He’s going to go flat! He’s going to go flat!”
So basically, I listen to this song a lot because the chorus is cute-sounding. That is about it.
Always Love [listen]
Terrible English. “Thank you for your cheering me, Always love, always love.” At first I misheard, “Thank you for cheating [on] me.” However, though this was the only questionable part, it was enough to turn me off because this is a mid-tempo ballad-ish song that is only somewhat catchy, and therefore, completely ignorable.
The beginning was nice though, Jonghyun singing in lower register, followed by Key’s lovely lower register, and then Onew’s lovely high and low register and then Taemin, who sings, “fushigi dayo ne,” and I absolutely hate how he lands on “gi” even though it is a downbeat). The human voice is an instrument, treat it like that; control downbeat accents.
I discussed the music video here. However, I really did not say anything about the vocals. In short, I found the vocals religiously faithful to the original, even though Taemin’s new parts had nowhere the finesse and power Jonghyun and Onew had. As with “Lucifer”, I think a tad bit better mastered with better vocal layering, but it is so slight that I hesitate to say it and perhaps it is only the novelty of singing in Japanese.
The synths very vaguely remind me of Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape.”
The English is awkward “I want to start.” The way it’s said, I just.. find it awkward, most probably because it is dominated by Jonghyun’s comparatively atrocious English. Onew’s lower register is especially beautiful here, though, and so are Jonghyun’s strings of “ohs” (for example, at 1.16s). I could just listen to this song for Jonghyun’s “ohs.”
And wow– Minho singing interlude (2.50s), not rapping. Nice try, Minho. Two words: autotune and froggy. Keep working on it, buddy. It is not a discredit to you, but Onew or Jonghyun could have sung that part much better.
Though it is relatively catchy, but like “Always Love”, not catchy enough for me, i.e., “Start” is completely ignorable.
Love Like Oxygen [listen]
Faithful to Korean version. As in, when Taemin and Minho team up, you still can barely hear Minho. Disappointing. Taemin got better at singing his bridge at 1.42s. Good for him, but he really needs to be careful. His timbre is getting ‘thick’ like Jonghyun and sometimes it is getting too thick for comfortable listening (sometimes I think, “does he have a cough? Is there something in Taemin’s throat?”).
Faithful to Korean version. I never did see the charm in Korean “Hello” in the first place, so I do not have much to say. Japanese sounds especially awkward and carefully enunciated because this song does not have as many complicated synths in the first place. In his singing parts, Korean Minho sounds much better than Japanese (frogman) Minho. Minho’s rap also fades into the background much more this time around, and considering how lackluster of a rapper he is already, this is problematic.
The SHINee World [listen]
SHINee’s one gangsta (sort of) song. Is it me or is the most important part, “My name is Minho” a little.. weak-sounding?!
The synth/beat sounds like what Mike Shinoda (the rapper in Linkin Park) could have dreamed up for his Fort Minor album (I was especially reminded of High Road); therefore, I was totally expecting the obligatory rap song for Minho and Key, but I guess they decided against it in this album. I am not too disappointed, because their rapping duets always struck me as a bit mismatched. MinKey shippers are few and far in between.
Song about a seesaw? I am so sorry.
The other SHINee track that I have on heavy rotation nowadays. Unlike “To Your Heart”, it starts right off the bat, and with Jonghyun leading it too, and then Key having this great autotuned-quasi-singing-speaking part that totally fits into the song, then Taemin is heavily autotuned and so is Onew. Taemin is okay autotuned there, no complaints, but Onew gets twisted into something that does not really sound like him, so I say nix to Onew autotuned.
As clarification, I do not mind autotune unless it ruins the original sound of the singer and does not match the song at all. For the most part, it was used in good moderation here.
No (awkward) English anywhere. Hallelujah.
overall rating: 2.5/5. Slightly below average.
Their biggest problem is that they fall back on pretty and forgettable synths for every other song that is not a Korean remake. You have “Lucifer” on an album with something so saccharine like “To Your Heart”. It was like “WOWOWOW” with “Lucifer” on their last Korean studio album. Wait, what is that track doing in there? Is it because SHINee’s image is cute, so we just really need a cute song? Is that why S.M. moved so quickly after “Lucifer” promotions ended to push out “Hello”?
Weird tracks all mashed together do not make for a good studio album.
Have some artistic integrity for once, S.M.
Of course, Tohoshinki’s most recent Japanese studio album, TONE, had “Why? Keep Your Head Down” and “Maximum” as a remake, but it fit in amongst all of the other heavy dance tracks like “Superstar“, “Beauty“, etc. EMI Music could have just called it a done deal after releasing expensive single CD sets for Replay, Juliette, and Lucifer, and set out to craft a coherent album for SHINee. We do not need a Japanese “Love Like Oxygen”, a Japanese “The SHINee World.” Sure, they are a nice gesture to Japanese fans, but what would be even nicer is authentic jpop. I was talking to my Japanese friend, and she tells me that most often, when Korean songs are transcribed to Japanese, they make no sense and are composed of individual phrases that may make sense alone but fall apart together. For this reason, Japanese versions could be even called, let’s say, atrocious compared to Korean version, so perhaps it is better to let sleeping dragons lie in these cases and not be forced to sing something about ice cream ninjas.
SHINee’s vocal ability is on par with their Lucifer album, no big improvements anywhere or any new things attempted. Minho still must cure his strangled frog sound. It was standard. The album was a half-hearted bore for the skill that they have amassed as performers over the years, especially for Jonghyun’s and Onew’s vocals. As discussed extensively before, the new songs were substandard; I can understand why they did not release a single from these songs.
SHINee is growing up, and somehow I feel this album is putting them back into Neverland. They are growing up, and they are no longer going to be the young group on the block once S.M.’s male SNSD debuts; so it is time to put this image on the shelf and gravitate towards the image TVXQ, Super Junior came to represent.
I really do grieve as a SHINee fan to give them such a barefaced and critical review. I once said that I would never be able to write a Lucifer album review because since I was so biased, I would give them full points immediately. Sadly, I do not think this is the case anymore.