Though SHINee’s members are all males and legal, I got a distinct hippie-Japanese-Lolita feel from their teasers, or as Westerners call it, cheesy French porn made in the 70s. Something was not quite right about seeing everyone (excluding Onew) so clearly half-naked. Perhaps it is because the image SHINee projects is overwhelmingly “little-brother”, “cute”, and “chaste”, and to have teasers so obviously about their sexuality was a bit shocking. A bit of shock in the kpop industry is not bad in a time of Shinhwa, EXO, and BIGBANG promotions.
After seeing the music video and noticing that they are all fully-clothed, I am more inclined to believe that these photos were more fanservice than anything, as sly thank-yous to the fans who have waited for them for close to two years. Nonetheless, the hippie concept sans the half-nakedness really jibed with their album, which used acoustic guitars and brassy old-school sounds. Also, it is worth noting that no other male group has used the hippie concept, so congratulations, S.M., for being ahead of the curve again. After Lucifer, there was a marked rise in heavy eyeliner and androgyny. Perhaps we should look towards the rise of hippie-style.
Though the teaser images had little to do with sleuthing, the Sherlock plotline is cute, finally providing SHINee with some sort of story. Compared to the other things they could have named this album like “Detective”, “Mystery” or “Sleuth”, I am totally fine with “Sherlock.”
I will review in order that the songs appear on the album. However, as it will make more sense if I evaluate Clue and Note separately before I evaluate Sherlock, I will change the order slightly, putting Clue and Note as 1 and 2, respectively.
1. Clue: Throughout the song, the scratchy synth– so overused for their sibling group, f(x)– predominates. Plus, every five measures, there is the sound effect of glass breaking. This, coupled with the scratchy synth, makes Clue one of the most grating and annoying songs I have ever heard from SHINee. The chorus is a Key and Minho rap, but it is not immediately obvious; it just sounds like a customary rapping interlude. Clue is a hot mess of a song– the sort of song that sounds like it could go on forever, until it suddenly stops.
2. Note: I find the drum lead-in much more effective and exciting than Clue‘s synth lead-in. Also, this is the song that includes the infectious and energetic hook, “I’m so curious.” This is a challenging song, keeping all of SHINee continuously stretching to the top of their ranges. Some reviewers have commented that this track feels very Broadway, what with its overambitious hook and straightforwardness. Yet, though I do understand that the instrumentals sound punchy in that way, they way they sing is not comparable to Broadway– it is simply not clear and enunciated enough.
3. Sherlock (Clue + Note): The first thing I thought when I heard it for the first time was just how very SHINee it sounds. With AMIGO, SHINee debuted with some 90s and old-school funk influence. Despite being old-school, the youthfulness with which they sang and performed conforms to SHINee’s self-description as a ‘contemporary band.’ Though SHINee has now been active for close to four years now and are sunbaes to many other kpop groups, SHINee still remains one of the groups that continually sounds fresh and young. The lead single, Sherlock, is not an exception to this concept, with its overconfident brass blaring in the background, with an imaginary DJ scratching up the record and breaking glass, fast pace and vocalizing gymnastics all over the place. Sherlock is a thoroughly satisfactory comeback song. It is bold, assertive, and highlights the strengths and style of SHINee, almost blindingly so.
4. Alarm Clock: The lyrics were penned by Jonghyun, the rap by Minho. I am happy to see them doing some of their own participation, and Minho finally getting a rap credit. Yet, what sits wrong with me is the music itself. It does not recall an alarm clock, rather an afternoon cocktail at the bar, neither happy nor sad. The swirling synth in the chorus sounds like someone swirling a martini to me, not an alarm clock. Perhaps that is just me, but this song could have used more evocative instrumentals, emotive chordal progressions and vocal runs. Read: where are Jonghyun wailings?
5. The Reason: I did a double take when I first heard the beginning, it sounded at any minute the raspy voice from Three Doors Down would be crooning. Yet, once we dive into the chorus, we have this lovely, calming oscillating synth. The Sherlock album is heavily composed by foreigners, but right away, I knew this song was written by Koreans and serves as SHINee’s mandatory sob kballad. In this way, this song seems a bit filler and out-of-place when stacked up to the rest of the album.
6. Stranger: This is the other out-of-place song, composed and written by Kenzie, in the employ of S.M., who also wrote Graze, Jo Jo, and Life for SHINee. This originally was featured in SHINee’s Japanese album, The First. Since Kenzie is Korean, I am guessing that it was intended as a Korean track but since SHINee’s Japanese debut was looming, it was converted to Japanese in the meantime. Is there any difference between the Japanese and Korean versions? Not really. I prefer the Japanese version because there is no English it in it, though the English in the Korean version is all grammatically correct.
7. Honesty: Not what I would have expected coming from SHINee, but it fits, somehow. The bare guitar, SHINee putting on their best voices, it is all so terribly endearing. In general, kpop rarely does this sort of acoustic-sounding track, mainly because none of them really play instruments and none of them have groups in which all the members can more or less hold their vocally. You know what would be super magical? A live of Honesty with Jonghyun accompanying everyone on guitar– but this may just be wishful thinking. Onew especially shines here, and Jonghyun would have been absolutely gorgeous if they let him touch some of the lower parts. Minho still sounds like a frog. Key still tries hard to reign in his raspy voice. Now for the million dollar question, how did Taemin do?
Overall: I purposely avoided talking about their voices, because for every song I would have commented, “What are they doing to Taemin?!” I thought the day would never come, but I have to admit it– Taemin sounds good. He is so much improved, even compared to SHINee’s The First, their most recent album after Sherlock. Though we traditionally think of Onew/Jonghyun/Key as the singers of SHINee, for Sherlock, it really sounded like Onew/Jonghyun/Taemin. However, one thing makes me wrinkle my brow. I have been following Taemin on Immortal Song, but he has not been that impressive as he is on the recording of this album– there is some sort of disconnect between recorded Taemin and live Taemin. Recorded Taemin sounds fantastic, live Taemin is a big bucket of meh.
As I have commented before, there were quite a lot of foreign producers this time around, along with two tracks produced by Koreans. This results in a mostly cohesive sound in the album, with a few oddities mixed in. If I could, I would have purged Stranger and The Reason, because they really eat away at the contemporary and fresh image that Sherlock opens up with.
Sherlock is a solid comeback album, with choice bits for everyone in the SHINee fandom; it is not particularly memorable but serves its purpose in reminding everyone just who are the cool, contemporary kids on the block.
Like song itself, the music video is a hot mess. I had to watch it several times to see everything that flashed by at record pace. I suspect that it is because this time there is an actual story to follow; we usually see SHINee just doing complicated choreography in an empty room, so trying to cram in impressive choreo scenes with a storyline is a bit tricky.
I did not think once about Taemin having too much screen time, so I think it was rather balanced in terms of individual shots.
The sets were well-thought out and actually.. complemented their outfits. They wore a lot of whites, which stood out against the grays of the set and glowed in the ‘light’ streaming from the windows.
For fashion, let’s get the terrible things out of the way– Jessica’s outfit made her look a bit like thick and too commonplace; thus sadly, she could not even match the class of Taemin in a top hat. The other disagreeable thing was Key’s peeling manicure, which you can see at 3.25s. Key is dressed sharply, and yet he has chipped black nail polish. Nonetheless, taken as a whole, the fashion was actually quite nicely put together, everyone fit together though they were all wearing individual pieces. I even liked Key’s white-starred blue
swimming trunks shorts and Taemin’s hippie hair, because I thought they were rather nice remixes of 70s novelties, courtesy of the ol’ US of A. The makeup was refreshing too, recalling Japanese Lucifer, natural and just a bit of charcoal, which looked best on Onew and Jonghyun. Best outfit goes to Onew, with his gold necklace and tan blazer. Onew is actually pretty pale, so the gold necklace set off his whole complexion, and the effect is gorgeous.
Overall, like the single Sherlock, a thoroughly satisfying comeback video. SHINee is doing complicated choreo, and looking extremely man-pretty while doing so.
The most ridiculous dancing that SHINee has ever attempted– both in terms of style and difficulty. The chorus has them swaggering in slo-mo like bunnies and taking photos all the while. Yet, their blocky dance movements are extremely well-suited to the song itself– building aggression and energy into a song that is already very aggressive.
SHINee’s debut with AMIGO, already had hard choreography, and as rookies, the level with which they performed is impressive, especially when you consider three out of the five group members are not natural dancers. Then they upped the ante with Juliette, and then they finally acknowledged Lucifer was the toughest dance they have ever had to learn. Sherlock blows Lucifer out of the water. In the practice video, SHINee is riddled with mistakes, with little missteps everywhere (Jonghyun even hits Taemin on the head at 0.36s). Every movement must be precise as they repeatedly switch going from a group formation into a straight line; they literally use all the stage space available, to the point where Taemin leans against the wall at 2.50s.
Moreover, there is a distinct group element to this choreography, as they will move in sync one after another, and react to the singing member’s individual choreography. SHINee has never had this level of group synchronization, and coupled with already complicated steps, I am thoroughly impressed. SHINee may not be the best dancing group altogether, but they are most definitely the most hardworking, managing to triumph over increasingly intricate choreography.
Their first live performance was on MNet Countdown, however, they did not sing live for Sherlock, and so I will discuss their second comeback performance on Music Bank.
They opened with Stranger– not much to say. Even Stranger is an exercise in choreography, so there is heavy breathing all over the performance and heavy backing vocals. Other than the beginning and the bridge, Jonghyun sang very little. Key dominated the chorus, like usual. Onew was solid, though he threatened to crack his voice in the beginning. Minho sounds like a frog. Taemin, he was dancing so enthusiastically, and wait for it, he was quite possibly the best voice in that performance (I bet you were not expecting me to say that!). Jonghyun sang very little, so his parts were spot on, but it was a Taemin-fest (he was everywhere!) in terms of singing and dancing, and Taemin nailed it all, without looking so much as harried or sweaty.
Taemin was in a top hat! Key was also wearing a hat. I wonder what they put they took to ensure the hats stay on, especially since the choreography is so intense. Special glue? Special hair pins?
Back to the singing– though Sherlock was live, there were heavy backing tracks for the entire song. How do you tell it is live? Just listen to the endings of their lines. In the recorded track, they tend to have a finished, rounded feel, but in the lives, Jonghyun especially, tends to punctuate endings rather suddenly and with an aggressive snarl. You can also listen for Minho singing slightly off-key. Though I am a champion of completely live performances, I understand why they had such heavy MR for this particular song, since the choreography is so energetic and requires them to dance even when singing their own parts. Case in point, during 3.28s to 3.36s, Jonghyun tries to get out his signature wail, but he just does not have enough air to completely fill it up, and it flops sadly, because he is also dancing his little dorky heart out in the chorus.`
The Sherlock live performance was extremely high-energy. I really wonder how SHINee will fare going against BIGBANG in the comeback stage. BIGBANG can sustain the high-energy equally through their three songs, while Sherlock is the lone high point. I cannot shake the feeling that perhaps SHINee should have paired Sherlock with something sedate, like Honesty, which would give them breathing room and thus more energy to perform Sherlock. It is worth noting that BIGBANG and SHINee channel their energy differently– BIGBANG’s choreography is never particularly hard, but their spontaneity and “I’m just rocking out” vibes make for a great stage presence. Whereas the real pleasure we get from watching SHINee is from them doing their complicated routine, perfectly.
Though a short comeback (only one month of promotions before they scuttle back to Japan), as a SHINee fangirl, Sherlock is absolutely what I expect of SHINee. Perhaps the comeback single could be a little less ‘hot mess’, but who are we kidding? Ring Ding Dong was one of the hottest messes ever to land in kpop, but SHINee made it work. I cannot think of a single group in kpop that could handle the entire album Sherlock with the same aplomb.
If I could pick a single song that has a distinct SHINee sound and was representative of their work until now, I would have to pick Sherlock. Not Replay, not Ring Ding Dong, not Lucifer. Rather than standing on its own in SHINee repertoire, Sherlock really encapsulates all of what SHINee has done before– the fast dance of Lucifer, the in-your-face epic of Ring Ding Dong, the infectiously fluid Juliette, the youthfulness of Replay. SHINee is soooo back, and I am soooo glad.
(And yes, I made all the gifs myself. I might write a tutorial on that sometime soon.)