[review] SHINee’s Chapter 1. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You.

I hope you are all as excited as I am to analyze the SHINee’s Dream Girl comeback. I will split this review into four main parts: album, music video, lives, and overall assessment. Let’s get on it.

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ALBUM

(1) Spoiler. This song begins with the opening synth to Sherlock. As SHINee has said, Dream Girl: The Misconceptions of You should be viewed as a continuation of Sherlock. Moreover, this introduction mentions each song in the album; establishing a very clear connection between Sherlock and Dream Girl. In fact, the instrumentation used on this track is not unlike Sherlock, except a little lower and sultry. SHINee is definitely back but it is definitely in a more understated, sexier fashion. Case in point, we have wonderful chants of mostly Jonghyun singing “Tonight, tonight, tonight…” at the end of the song. In fact, this song– verses and chorus– is mostly dominated by Jonghyun’s voice. The biggest disappointment is this track is Key. There are times he does sound lovely, but often the endings of his singing parts stick out and seem largely unfinished compared to the sultry croonings of Onew and Jonghyun, and yes, even Taemin.

(2) Dream Girl. Praise lord that this is not “acid electro funk,” as described to the music critics who received a preview of Dream Girl before it officially released. This is just electro funk. If it were “acid,” it would be much more sharper and higher, and the electro part of the song would not be as full. Think Dream Girl on heroine and slowly wasting away but crying out for more to feed an addiction; now that would be “acid electro funk.”

Dream Girl is amazing electro funk. The tricky problem with funk is that if not done well, the novelty of the funk can overpower the singers– so, in essence, the audience is thinking this song is really weird and no matter how talented the performers are, they simply cannot ignore the weirdness of the funk. The song was assiduously mixed with this in mind: the funk elements are there but not in your face– we get treated to beautiful falsettos mostly sung by Onew and Jonghyun (heavy on the Jonghyun for the most part), and “funky” synths like guitar riffs and interesting bass lines, while present, are kept minimal in the background. These funky moments are likewise paired with minimal electro synthy tricks; the choruses are all our familiar Sherlock electro with a light percussive beat, so the track itself cannot be categorized as just plain funk, hence the electro funk. Dream Girl strikes the correct balance, which is what makes it such an exciting track to listen to.

Continue reading

[kpop] SHINee cheer no. 6!

It has been a while since I have done one of these. Enjoy! I know I have laughed myself silly over the first one. By the way, this is what an alien looks like.

Just a slight warning, after the break, it is PG-13, with a bit of swearing and mentions of obscenity. Use Urban Dictionary as a reference for slang you do not know, but at your own peril!  Continue reading

[kpop] a review of SHINee The 1st Concert in Seoul CD (get some tea, it’s going to be long)

SHINee The 1st Concert in Seoul DVD was released today, 8 August 2012. To celebrate its release, I have kicked myself to review the CD version I have sitting around in my room. I procured this CD in China for less than 10USD, which I figured, “Hey, why not?” for I do not generally buy albums (the rare exception is my signed Lucifer), since they are rather expensive and I am a rather poor college student.

the physical CD package (see below for gallery)

This package comes with two CDs, a glued-on booklet, with a total of 33 songs. In this digital age where downloads are at the click of a mouse, buying a physical CD is not as urgent, so when deciding whether a CD is a good purchase, the physical case itself and the photos it has is a big factor.

SHINee did a special photoshoot for this album– as seen on the front and back covers, the inside cover, and the cover to the booklet. While I do think it is pretty because SHINee are natural pretty boys, the photoshoot is really nothing out of the ordinary. They all look rather mysteriously off into the distance, something that all of them have perfected since their debut in 2008. The inside cover is quite horrid with all the members sporting pom-poms on their tops. Jonghyun is wearing a Lacoste collared shirt– which is known for being sport-chic– so I guess for Jonghyun at least, the pom-poms were added on by their stylists rather than actually being part of the shirt itself.  Nonetheless, despite the ugly pom-poms, the good amount of color squeezed in is very nice, and indicates SHINee’s versatility at fitting many different styles.

Inside, there is a booklet complete with lyrics and photos of SHINee at the concert. Given that these are professional photos, they are crisp and clean and drool-worthy. However, given that SHINee has some of the most rabid fans out there, one can easily stroll to a fansite and have eerily similar high-quality photos. Nothing that the professional photographers have taken cannot be found on a fansite. That being said, if you are in the market for this CD, I would Google up some legitimate scans and figure out if the booklet photos are something you really love and must have.

the songs

CD1

01. Into the SHINee World. This is the introduction to the concert– a disembodied voice with so-so English and fangirl screams. This is the sort of thing that is quite useless without a visual companion, so there is not much I can really say here. From the disembodied voices, the song segues from a rather cool R&B-influenced vibe to an upbeat-rock introduction of the members, and a “Welcome to the SHINee World.”

02. The SHINee World [Doo-Bop]. SHINee sounds incredibly fresh and is hitting absolutely everything, and Taemin sounds incredibly good. It is quite scary. Therefore, I believe this track underwent a bit of editing and correction; it is likely this was lip-synched. If there were not fangirl screams periodically, I would prefer this track to the original and the Japanese version. There is a funny little rap break in the middle before the “My name is Minho” part where Minho says “My name is Minho” again. Must have been dance-break time? Continue reading

[review] SHINee is soooo back with Sherlock.

CONCEPT

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.”

MUSIC

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?  Continue reading

[kpop] BIGBANG’s “Blue”: a spur-of-the-moment, this-is-just-too-good review

I don’t have much to say, because I am absolutely blown away.

BIGBANG is not a strong vocal group and will never be, if we hold TVXQ as our vocal standard for male groups. But I find I don’t care. Particularly, G-Dragon’s singing starting at 0.44s is just so heartbreakingly perfect and well-paced with the midtempo bass. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from melting.

The song itself– it builds on Korean ballad idioms, but it moves away from it, a bit like SM The Ballad did with “Hot Times“, as it is less concerned with sounding so sad and emotive, having excessive held high notes. What we get is a song that is melancholy, but at the same time, uplifting. “Blue” is something to curl up to on a rainy day with a cup of hot tea and a biscotti or two.

I lied slightly, I am a bit bothered by the voice qualities, for example, sandwiching TOP between the smooth chorus and BIGBANG’s token smooth singer, Taeyang. However, I’ve always had a problem with the cohesiveness of BIGBANG’s sound, so this is nothing new. I am also bothered by the token white girl, which they also had in the MV for “Tonight.” I know they are trying for an international flavor, but the video could have been handled just fine without a token white girl, who is just like a thin layer of frosting on top of an already very substantial cake of interesting sets, and an interesting song. Heck, if you have an interesting song, all you need is a video of yourself singing it, and that is about all the music video you need. If YG insists on putting a token international girl in the videos, then I better stop seeing these waif couture models, and maybe, I don’t know, a really sexy italiana? An African-American? Pouty dark-haired French?

Despite those small bothers, I can say for certain this song can be certified as one of the best things that has happened to kpop in the last two years, probably even better than SHINee’s Korean “Lucifer“. Listening to BIGBANG, I am immediately reminded of EXO, the new group of SM that is in the stage of pre-debut with its never-ending teasers, who also pre-released a midtempo ballad, “What is Love?” Everyone kept commenting how similar it sounds to TVXQ’s “Before U Go“, which actually were both produced and written by Yoo Young-jin, one of the perennial favorites in SM’s arsenal of songwriters. But listening to BIGBANG’s “Blue”, which G-Dragon wrote and produced, I can honestly say that I have never heard anything like this before from G-Dragon. Of course, their previous comeback hints at the electro thump, but this sound, it’s completely fresh.

It is fresh– something that is rarely said in kpop nowadays. As we clear away the conventional EXOs and BAPs and missAs, I’m glad that we still have BIGBANG to look forward to.

[review/kpop] The First, SHINee

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.

First Impressions

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.

Lucifer [listen]

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.

rating: 3/5

Amigo [listen]

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.”

What.

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.

rating: 1/5

Juliette [listen]

I refrain from commenting.

rating: –/5

Better [listen]

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.

rating: 2/5

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.

rating: 3/5

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.

rating: 2/5

Replay [listen]

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.

rating: 2/5

Start [listen]

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.

rating: 3/5

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?”).

rating: 4/5

Hello [listen]

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.

rating: 2/5

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?!

rating: 2/5

Seesaw [listen]

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.

rating: 2/5

Stranger [listen]

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.

rating: 4/5

General

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.