U-KISS are better than your oppars aka EX(wh)O

Hearing Alone for the first time was like every holiday had been mixed together and stuffed inside a pie.

 

While I have been MIA for the past several months, I assure you my ears have been awake and working hard. Where some groups have been doing shit-all (that means you, EXO) others have been working their pretty, sculpted backsides off to no avail.  Arguably, EXO’s success—which has come about from one mere, mediocre mini-album—is riding off the power of their company and label mates’ established names rather than their own merit and hard work. Because of this, I find it difficult to not to shed a tear for the poor souls on lesser known labels whose talents are just as good as—or perhaps better than—the power groups of SM, YG and JYP Entertainment.

Yes, I’m looking at you, U-KISS.

  U-KISS-Stop-Girl-Wallpaper-u-kiss

U-KISS have been so prolific in my absence (actually, I haven’t gone anywhere—I’ve just been lazy) I’m actually using this semi-opinionated rant article as a mass review for the stream of releases in Japan and Korea over the past few months. Following DORADORA, our little workaholics have released eight MVs, two Japanese singles, two mini-albums, one full-length album, and two digital singles that no one actually remembers. The point is U-KISS have done more in seven months than some groups (coughexocough) have done their entire career. Is this the result of the age-old quality vs quantity debate? Maybe. Or a testament of label power? Most definitely.

As fun as it is to rip on EXO—their fans are so blindly and hilariously defensive it’s actually sad—that is not the point of this article. I’m here to glance over U-KISS’ recent endeavours and lament over their continued but unjustified lack of notable success. I know I’m supposed to be (relatively) unbiased but get over it: U-KISS are awesome and deserve my love and your money.

DORADORA was very quickly succeeded by yet another mini-album; The Special to KISSME hit our screens just one month after DORADORA with title track Believe. While notably lacking the edge and style of the previous release, Believe was certainly fresh and easy listening. I mean, how could it not be with all those pastels and aqua? Written by member AJ, the track was catchier and more likeable than anything called Believe should have been. Thus, AJ’s decision to take a brief hiatus from the band to pursue tertiary education was the saddest day of my life. (It wasn’t really, because I’m not insane.)

AJ’s departure did not leave the hole I thought it would: Stop Girl was an amazing mini-album and despite its ballad-like appearance, it didn’t make me want to kill myself as ballads tend to do. If that isn’t a credit to U-KISS’ talent then I don’t know what is. The black and white MV was poignant and the inclusion of an English version of the song was very much welcomed. Another highlight of the Stop Girl mini was accompanying ballad Time to Go. I’m not really sure what it was about September that made me so welcoming to slower tunes, but I certainly won’t complain because this album quenched a thirst I didn’t know I had.

Somewhere in between Believe and Stop Girl were Japanese releases, Dear My Friend and One of You. I don’t really have a much of an opinion to offer on these tracks because Japanese music labels are monumental tight-arses when it comes to offering full-length videos on YouTube, thus I have never given them more than a once over. Evidently, they were not that memorable—much like digital singles Cinderella and Gangstar Boy which no one outside the diehard KISSMEs have even heard of. Rounding out 2012 was yet another mediocre Japanese ballad by the name of Distance. It was … nice. And that’s all I’m going to say.

If 2013 is not U-KISS’ glory year then something is horridly wrong with the world. The year has started strongly in the industry, headed by new releases from big guns SHINee and Super Junior M. While I think Breakdown is brilliant and my ears like Dream Girl much more than my eyes do, my highlight so far this year is U-KISS’ latest Japanese single. Hearing Alone for the first time was like every holiday had been mixed together and stuffed inside a pie. And if there’s one thing I like, its pie. Alone is dark, gritty, catchy and undeniably sexy. Even Kevin with his androgynous looks and borderline homosexual mannerisms had me swooning. The sheer joy this song had AJ forgotten in seconds. But let’s face it—what group actually needs three dedicated rappers? In any case, this song had me cursing avexnetwork more than ever for being so narrow-sighted and backwards and not having HD version of their music videos posted in full to their YouTube Channel. Believe it or not guys, free public exposure is actually helpful. Who would have thought?

No comeback, however, is official unless it takes place in Korea.  While I question the decision to release so closely to SHINee I strongly commend U-KISS on their comeback stages. Personally found title track Standing Still had much more of an impact than SHINee’s eye-murdering Dream Girl. If wardrobe was anything to take into consideration then U-KISS would have won hands down because God knows SHINee’s stylist should have been euthanized years ago.

Taemin's awful wardrobe in DREAM GIRL

Standing Still is an amazing showcase of vocalists Hoon, Kevin and Soohyun. As with much of U-KISS’ discography these three carry the bulk of the workload, and with well-earned justification.  And Hoon’s blond hair is just smokin’. Appearance aside, Standing Still is a solid track and I regret to say I’m unable as yet to locate a copy of the full album, Collage. How about you import some Korean CDs other than TVXQ, eh Japan?

Let’s put praise on hold for a minute and remember: no band is perfect. While U-KISS’ music and vocals are definitely up to snuff their choreography blows more than an underpaid prostitute. This is not really a reflection on the talent of U-KISS themselves but more the rather strange inspirations of their choreographer. How about we take a moment to remember the enraged chicken of the Neverland video.

U-KISS - Neverland Dance

But if the industry worked on dancing prowess alone, there would be some serious eyebrows raised over Super Junior’s success. Yes, that is an unveiled stab at Heechul. Possibly Yesung. Definitely Ryeowook.

And on that note …

[MINI-ALBUM] U-KISS – DORADORA

Dora Dora Dora Dora the Explorer?

It might appear I’ve been too busy for Kpop and that’s mostly because I have been too busy for Kpop. Although full-time employment has unfortunately interfered with my music blogging it hasn’t prevented me from listening to all the new releases hitting the stores. As always, it’s been a tale of hit and miss, but let’s get back into things with one of the sure-fire hits: U-KISS DORADORA.

U-KISS - DORADORA

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: U-KISS is severely underrated. As hard as I try to be apathetic in blog posts and keep my personal biases close to my chest, it’s hard when something as fresh and wonderful as DORADORA pops up. I was first introduced to U-KISS when they released Neverland and, with the inclusion of their Japanese debut, the seven-member band has continued to go from strength to strength. Now with the release of their sixth mini-album I think it’s safe to say U-KISS has solidified their sound. And what a very good sound it is.

Title track DORADORA is, at first glance, a jumble of genres. With its unusual deep and low opening, DORADORA ends very different to how it starts once the power vocals of Hoon and Soohyun kick in. Let’s ignore for a moment how much the chorus sounds like Dora Dora Dora Dora the Explorer and enjoy what it has to offer as a whole: the bass-heavy melody is delicious and when coupled with the ridiculously catchy (albeit unfortunate) chorus, there was no way this song was to be anything but a hit. Unfortunately for U-KISS (and their beloved KISSME) this was not reflected in the charts as strongly as it should have as their comeback coincided with Girls’ Generation TTS’ debut, who—unsurprisingly—took a clean sweep of the music shows with Twinkle. But if the boys continue to churn out delights such as DORADORA I dare say they’ll be winning one of the weekend stages before too long. I’ll cross my fingers for them.

The MV for DORADORA is just as wonderful as the track itself. Although Kevin looks as though he’s dressed in a picnic blanket and Eli’s hair is an offensive shade of white, the boys have a crisp, mature image more or less epitomised by AJ. That short hair is working for you, boy, keep it up.

DORADORA - Screen Cap 01 DORADORA - Screen Cap 02

Now, for me, the choreography for DORADORA is the selling point. While I have been known to laugh at U-KISS’ dancing prowess in the past—seriously, what was that dance in Neverland?—they certainly stepped it up with Tick-Tack and Forbidden Love and maintained this standard with DORADORA. Loaded with body rolls and undulating pelvises the choreography is painfully erotic—especially when you consider maknae Dongho being but the tender age of seventeen. Awkward difference in our age aside, DORADORA is an utter joy and there is very little I can seriously find to fault. And that is rare indeed.

Amazing served as the teaser for the mini-album, being released prior to the full album drop. The track was penned by member AJ, who has done a fine job on this dance hit. While it pales beside DORADORA, Amazing is more than satisfying in terms of tempo and catchiness. As always, there is little to note vocal-wise aside from Soohyun, Kevin and Hoon who dominate with their combination of power, harmony and the ubiquitous wail. The track is a great little party piece which will no doubt raise the mood as you can’t help but cry out it’s so amazing.

A notable highlight for me in regards to this album was the single ballad track which manifested in the form of 사랑이 멈출 [When Love Stops]. Contrary to what you’re all expecting, I actually really like this song—it’s emotional, powerful and strangely moving despite the language barrier. Have I become more tolerant of ballads recently? It’s possible; however I don’t expect to be listening to this song—or any pop ballad—on repeat anytime soon but it certainly is a nice track.

4U (For You) rounds out the new tracks on this mini-album. It’s lighter than both DORADORA and Amazing and consequently weaker. Once again, it’s not a bad song, but it’s not that great either and would have been rather forgettable were it not for the cringe-worthy line Thanks to you I’m jumping like a kangaroo. Cheers for that, Eli (AJ? I have no idea).

The album finishes up with an instrumental of DORADORA, which no one cares about, and a Korean version of Japanese super-hit Tick-Tack, renamed TICK TOCK (OUT OF TIME). The wonderful thing about this song is regardless of the language in which it is sung it’s still ridiciously great. It’s interesting to note in addition to the Japanese the English lines also underwent renovation. The rewriting of this handful of lines has certainly changed the overall meaning and feel of the track. Was this a smart move? In my opinion: yes. The two songs are very different and have gone from being a simple language swap to almost individual tracks. That said, I will always listen to the Japanese version for no particular reason other than it was the one that came first.

Although I still rate U-KISS’ Japanese tracks among their best and strongest, the boys have certainly proven themselves contenders on their native Korean charts with DORADORA. With their follow-up mini The Special to KISSME released little over a month behind DORADORA it’s safe to say U-KISS are set to give their home turf a pounding. You go, U-KISS.

[MINI-ALBUM] 4minute – Volume Up

While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of.

 It should come as no great surprise when I admit I’m not a real lover of girls groups; with the exception of 2NE1 I find the cutesy, sugar-flower looks and sound of many groups entirely painful.  But I’ve always found 4minute to have a bit of an edge and it’s because of this I approached their new release with mild excitement.

4minute 'VOLUME UP'

We all know I hate intro tracks so skipping over Get on the Floor the first song on this little mini is title track Volume Up. Coming off the back of previous releases I My Me Mine and Mirror Mirror, Volume Up sounds classy as hell. With the delightfully smooth saxophone combined with HyunA’s fierce rap and the delicious wails from fellow members, Volume Up certainly has impact. Not to mention the video is still jam-packed with 4minute’s trademark sex appeal.

Love or hate HyunA—and I know she has a lot of haters—people can’t deny her sexiness, especially in this video with hoards of backup dancers grinding into her. Against an expensive set and fabulous outfits the girls all look fierce and erotic causing even the straightest of females to go woah mama. While I don’t understand the ‘vampire’ image I’ve heard the MV described as containing, it certainly is dark, edgy and mildly gothic with a hint of sophistication which is reflected in the music itself. While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of. The emotion, power and overall feel of Volume Up certainly reflects this but the girls disappointingly fall back into their party ways in the latter half of the album.

Following on from Volume Up is I’m Ok which continues this newfound mature vibe. In spite of the mellow appearance, I’m Ok is chock-full of powerful, raw emotions, making it one of the best tracks on the mini-album and possibly one of their greatest songs to date. Say My Name falls back into 4minute’s familiar party girl rhythm and is certainly high in the energy and fun departments. While not as memorable as Volume Up and I’m Ok thanks to the comparatively hollow emotion, it’s a solid enough track and progresses the album nicely.

Femme Fatale is once again a high-powered dance tune but is a little light on the badass-ery the title suggests. Dream Racer is relative funky and it’s no surprise the girls’ elected to perform this alongside Volume Up during their comeback stage. Still, I personally would have preferred to see I’m Ok up against the title track as I feel the two complement each other nicely; however Dream Racer is a safe choice due to the familiarity it no doubt possesses for 4minute fans.

Finally this leaves Black Cat, which is by no means the weakest track on the album. With its jazz feel spoiled by auto-tuning the vocals, the originality of the track is weakened but still contains enough difference in sound to make it stand out amongst the other songs on offer.

4minute’s new mini-album is a fun, energetic floor-filler underpinned with mature emotions. The girls’ have well and truly maintained their sexy sound and image and managed to grow a little in the process. Although the subtle power of title track Volume Up is not carried solidly across the whole mini-album, overall it is fun enough to listen to. That said, it’s probably better enjoyed on the dance floor of a party than through the speakers of one’s stereo.

[MINI-ALBUM] EXO – MAMA

EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent.

It’s been a long time coming—five months, to be exact. With twenty-three teasers, two prologue singles, a special showcase, modelling videos and over one hundred days of hype, EXO are finally here with debut mini-album MAMA. I’ve already speculated how SM Entertainment may have hammered us with too many teasers but have my predictions turned out accurate? In a word: yes. I’ve never been more underwhelmed.

EXO-K 'MAMA' EXO-M 'MAMA'

The frustrating thing about MAMA is the debut track itself is quite brilliant but I can’t appreciate it to the full extent due to the noticeable lack of excitement I felt when hearing it for the first time. With all of EXO’s talents put on show through a mini-concert and abundance of teasers there was no element of surprise when MAMA hit online media sites. Instead of flailing with utter anticipation I welcomed the long-awaited single with a flat sigh and an oh it’s finally here.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 01

Aside from SM Entertainment’s terrible decisions in regards to EXO’s pre-debut activities, they have surprisingly achieved what they set out to do: create a new sound set to light the world on fire. What places MAMA aside from the plethora of groups making their debut early this year—B.A.P, NU’EST and BTOB, for example—is the lack of ‘hook’ lyrics or melody in order to draw in an audience. Instead of the catchy choruses we witnessed in the aforementioned debut groups’ lyrics, EXO present us with an edgy, fierce, almost pseudo-rock single topped off with a cherry in the form of a screamed rap bridge. This is all made all the more impressive and powerful by the ominous English cult-inspired chanting at the beginning and end of the track. When I first heard the song during EXO’s pre-debut showcase hosted by Super Junior’s Lee-everywhere-Teuk, I originally thought these lines to be in Latin. I wish I continued to think this.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 02 EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 03

As if to spit on the prowess of the song, SM has coupled MAMA with a typically low-budget MV that is practically identical to what we already saw in prologue single History. The set is unsurprisingly inside the company’s trademark box, alternating between a sleek temple-esque dance room and a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland. The other features of the video include largely unrelated, random clips, many of which were released in part as teasers, making the MV pretty disappointing due to the lack of new (or original) footage. The most painful part of the whole experience, however, was the tacky narration at the beginning outlining the supposed mythology related to the fabled EXO Planet. I have no idea why SM decided to write the ‘legend’ of EXO and I honestly don’t really care. As if anyone is going to believe that shit anyway? It’s agonisingly lame and adds almost two minutes to the MV. No, just, no.

In any case, EXO-M and EXO-K have presented entirely identical music videos (obviously) so there’s no reason to waste any more of your time by watching both. Pick a side—M or K, whichever takes your fancy—and just roll with that. Personally, I selected EXO-M. Why? They’re so nice to look at. And there’s no Kai [1].

The rest of the debut mini-album seems shorter than it actually is due to the inclusion of prologue singles What Is Love and History. I have no idea why SM decided to include these tracks when it seems, judging by the song excerpts featured in the many teasers, EXO have plenty of tracks at their disposal. Listing What Is Love and History alongside the new releases made EXO’s debut mini-album all the more underwhelming due to the lack of new material with which they provided us. Even MAMA was shown to the public through their showcase leaving only three new tracks on offer. I expected to be disappointed and even with the utter joy that was MAMA, EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent. Because there was so much hype I felt obligated to listen to the album due to the time and interest invested in pre-debut activities. But I can’t say I’m excited about it.

The sound displayed on the mini-album is by no means cohesive; with a range of R&B ballads, hip-hop and electronica EXO have all bases covered but at the expensive of defining who they actually are. Just what exactly are you trying to be, EXO? In general, EXO present a very different vibe to recently debuted groups which will no doubt pique the interest of those who managed to bury themselves under a rock during the onslaught of teasers. MAMA, History and Machine are perhaps the most similar tracks, displaying subdued backing music and an emphasis on vocals. Machine is the weakest of these songs and it’s no wonder it remained hidden while the former received early attention.

Hip-hop track 双月之夜/개의 달이 뜨는 밤 [Two Moons] featuring label mate Key from SHINee adds yet another facet to EXO’s diverse genre catalogue. The song is literally painful to listen to and sitting through both Korean and Chinese renditions made me groan. With no climax or dynamic soundtrack Two Moons bounces along like a souped-up car down a suburban street. I immensely dislike this song to the point I would have to say I prefer ballad What Is Love. If you’re an avid reader of this blog then you’ll understand how high a criticism this is. But perhaps I’m being overly harsh on What Is Love as, admittedly, I also prefer it to 你的世界/너의 세상으로 [Angel], which is just plain boring. It has a great harmony and the vocals are pretty—blah, blah—but the fact remains it’s still weak. Truth be told, Two Moons, Angel and Machine are all soft in comparison to the previously released tracks on the album. This is perhaps the greatest disappointment: not only did SM spoil would be EXO fans with too many teasers they also shot their payload on the prologue singles leaving nothing but a sad and shrivelled final product to be unveiled to the public.

EXO are by no means a bad idol group. They are fresh, new and different but the lack of excitement fuelled by anticipation for their debut hurt my overall impression of them—I’m simply not as interested as I could be as I’ve already seen all EXO have to offer. MAMA, the mini-album, is a lopsided product featuring three very good tracks and three comparatively poor ones. Basically, if you enjoyed the tracks released before the mini-album dropped on April 9—MAMA included, as it was released on the 8th—you can save your time and money because it really doesn’t get any better.  Even so, my love and respect for title song MAMA has me very much looking forward to seeing EXO-M perform live next month when they support Super Junior in the Australian leg of their Super Show 4 World Tour.

Now that’s something to get excited for.


[1] You can read all about my love [read: hate] for Kai here

[MINI-ALBUM] CNBLUE – Ear Fun

No one can say CNBLUE are not consistent; their sound is well-established to the point all tracks on the mini-album are fundamentally the same.

I only came across CNBLUE’s music when I saw them live at the Sydney Kpop Music Festival back in November 2011 and was very impressed with the performance they put on. When Ear Fun was released I thought I’d give it a listen to see if they were just as captivating on CD as they were live.  Contrary to what the ridiculous title suggested, Ear Fun only proved to be temporary fun for my ears as none of the tracks stayed with me after I finished listening.

CNBLUE - Ear Fun

I should preface I am a hard rock and metal lover from way back and it goes without saying that, despite my love for pop, soft rock is not something I particularly enjoy. As most of my days are now spent enjoying upbeat pop with intricate choreography a part of me does tingle with excitement when I see a group holding instruments. CNBLUE certainly have caught my attention and, despite my minimal interest in soft rock, I do appreciate their music more than label mate FT Island who sound painfully like something out of the 1960s.

When 아직 사랑한다 [Still In Love] was released prior to the official drop I didn’t hold particular high expectations for the mini-album. While the track has a nice beat and has me tapping my fingers on the table, there is nothing about the song that grabs me; the MV is boring, depicting the boys in a recording studio, and while Yonghwa has a great voice, I found the vocals to be a little flat. The song itself is not bad but is something I would prefer to listen to in the background than actively bop along to.

Title track Hey You, released with an MV on March 25, is more dynamic than 아직 사랑한다 [Still In Love]. Hey You is quite mellow but still contains CNBLUE’s trademark boppy tune and is certainly catchy enough to stick in one’s head. The MV is also notably more inspired than the previously released track and probably about as interesting MVs of this genre get. With the vocal spotlight shared out with fellow band mates, Hey You has a distinct flavour and diversity compared to other tracks on the mini-album. But this still doesn’t make it great.

Following on from the two promotional tracks is Dream Boy. Dream Boy is the most light-hearted song on the mini-album, boasting a softer, fluffier melody. It has a very generic sound and really does seem like something I have heard before, but as far as I can tell it hasn’t been released prior to Ear Fun (please correct me if I’m wrong!). In any case, I don’t find this track to be anything particularly special. It’s nice to listen to, but that’s about it.

The latter half of Ear Fun is definitely the highlight and swiftly moves into the fun track Rock n Roll, an aptly named song that contains a great retro rock ‘n’ roll feel. The song is a hit right from the opening guitar rift through to the bouncy vocals and funky chorus. This track really makes me want to hit the floor and jive, which is of course a good thing. Following directly on from this catchy song is Run, which builds steadily into yet another catchy chorus and highlights the power in Yonghwa’s vocal chords. The lengthy guitar solo is also what one would expect of this genre of music.

In addition to Run and Rock n Roll, In My Head is probably the best track on the album. Despite being a Korean remake of popular Japanese 2011 single of the same name, In My Head is a great song which fits in well with the rest of the mini-album. If anything no one can say CNBLUE are not consistent; their sound is well-established to the point all tracks on the mini-album are fundamentally the same. Each track is equally as catchy with mellow guitar riffs, smooth vocals and steady beat. In My Head is the standout, however, showcasing husky and powerful vocals in the chorus and is certainly my favourite.

Fans of CNBLUE will no doubt be satisfied with this solid little mini-album; all tracks are good and none are profoundly boring. My main qualm is the overwhelming sensation of sameness I am left with at completion of Ear Fun.  While CNBLUE are a nice change from the electronic-heavy pop I usually review, they are certainly a group I prefer to admire live on stage than through the headphones of my iPod.

[REPACKAGE] MBLAQ – BLAQ%Ver.

Even though the smorgasbord of genres on 100%Ver. turned out to be very hit and miss, BLAQ%Ver. seems to have taken it one step further.

MBLAQ certainly have been busy little boys, hitting us with a repackage of their most recent mini-album 100%Ver. The new edition—uncreatively titled Blaq%Ver—features two new tracks and an intro/theme song of the same name. MBLAQ usually have an interesting assortment of sounds and so I was looking forward to this repackage. Well, interesting is certainly one way to describe it.

MBLAQ - BLAQ%Ver.

Considering the broad spectrum of genres MBLAQ covered in the original 100%Ver. it would be easy to assume the boys got their experimenting out of the way and settled down with the repackage. This was not to be the case and the ever surprising MBLAQ have once again brought a new selection of sounds to the table. Even though the smorgasbord of genres on 100%Ver. turned out to be very hit and miss, BLAQ%Ver. seems to have taken it one step further. The three new tracks proffer yet another direction for MBLAQ’s music making it very hard to predict what their feature endeavours will entail.

I honestly cannot believe MBLAQ added an intro track after it had been delightfully omitted from the original release. Disappointment aside, BLAQ% (the song) is not as bad as it is a waste of space. It does at the very least set the electronic tone for following track 100%, which is—surprise, surprise—very unlike anything MBLAQ has released previously. Its soft electronic beat makes me feel like I’m back in a school disco during the 90s and I don’t mean this in a bad way. It’s fun, it’s funky but probably not a song you’d enjoy listening to on its own. The greatest pitfall of this track, however, is the excessive use of auto tune and even though it fits the techno-electronic feel of the song, it still ruins the overall vocals. Much like Run, which only obtained awesome status when combined with choreography and MBLAQ’s overwhelming stage presence, 100% would be a great song to see live. This makes J.Tune Camp’s decision to can promotions at the last moment all the more disappointing[1]. The company, however, deserves props for putting their money makers’ health and wellbeing first by allowing them to take a rest. Respect, J.Tune Camp. Respect.

The last of the new tracks, 사랑이 온다 (Beautiful), is much along the same line as Hello My Ex and 아찔한 그녀 only slightly better. While not as catchy or upbeat as Hello My Ex, it is quite a nice tune and a good balance for 100%; where the vocals were brutalised in 100% by auto tune, they are showcased wonderfully in 사랑이 온다 (Beautiful).

MBLAQ have certainly diversified their genre portfolio by once again adding yet another different sound to the already mismatched 100%Ver. Although both 100% and 사랑이 온다 (Beautiful) are decent, solid tracks they are still outshone by 전쟁이야 [This is War] and Run. If you’re strapped for cash or not a diehard A+ you could easily give this repackage a miss.

You can check out my original review of 100%Ver. here: [MINI-ALBUM] MBLAQ – 100% Ver.

[MINI-ALBUM] SHINee – Sherlock

While I’m sure some people will defend Sherlock as genius it strikes me as being painfully lazy.

I gave up expecting anything of SM Entertainment a while ago but a momentary lapse in concentration allowed me to form some degree of anticipation for SHINee’s new mini-album. Maybe it was due to the nineteen month break between Korean releases; or perhaps it was spawned from my indecent love of Jonghyun. Whatever the case I found myself sitting up at 2am AEST just to listen to Sherlock the moment it hit midnight on the 19th in Korea. Should I have done that? I’m starting to think no.

SHINee - Sherlock

Many internet dwellers are familiar with 2am—I myself am no stranger to it having been (in addition to an internet junkie) a University student for the past four years. Still, I find it a horrid hour when your eyes start to burn and a sort of nausea develops in your gut from sleep deprivation. But I endured just to get my hands on a copy of Sherlock as soon as humanly possible. With SM Entertainment having declared Sherlock an ‘experimental pop’ creation featuring the hybridization of many genres, I couldn’t help but be excited. Could it be? SM is actually going to attempt something new instead of following up with a carbon-copy of a previously successful single? Evidently only Super Junior is reserved for that level of management.

But Sherlock does not seem to be any form of ground-breaking production; the only abnormality I can detect is the haphazard fusion of Clue and Note in order to create Sherlock. The title track is perhaps the only song on the mini-album that fits the parameters SM established for itself: the overall sound is somewhere between a bass-heavy dance track and an upbeat climatic chorus from some overly spirited stage production. In this regards, SM Entertainment have definitely succeeded in creating a musical hybrid; however the concept is all downhill from there.

I can’t bring myself to appreciate Clue and Note as, following on from Sherlock, I feel as though I’m listening to the same song three times and can’t actually distinguish between them. When it was announced Sherlock was to be comprised of tracks Clue and Note I didn’t expect it to be such a blatant melding of the two. It really sounds as if Note has been slapped over the top of Clue and relabelled Sherlock. While I’m sure some people will defend this as genius—SM of course and presumably many Shawols—it strikes me as being painfully lazy. Did they honestly think it a good idea to include three tracks which are essentially the same on a mini-album? Unsurprisingly, there is no reason to listen to all three songs—just pick the one you like best and be satisfied with that.

Brace yourselves: I’m about to give praise to a ballad. Two, in fact. Mellow tracks The Reason and그자리에 (Honesty) are perhaps the greatest indication of SHINee’s growth during their time away. Maknae Taemin’s voice has matured dramatically—most notable in그자리에 (Honesty)—and as always Jonghyun and Onew are a pleasure to listen to. The Reason is delightfully haunting and the chilled guitar backing of그자리에 (Honesty) makes it easy to appreciate the talents of their vocals and this in itself renders the track a success. As rare as it is for me to say this, these are two very emotional and solid ballads and SHINee and SM deserve some praise.

I love 낯선자 (Stranger); so much so I wish it were the title track instead of Sherlock. It’s poppy, edgy and decisively SHINee—and would have had some killer choreography, too. But it’s such a shame it’s just a Korean remake of a track with the same name from their Japanese album The First. I really am puzzled as to why SM did this especially considering The First gained its own Korean release back on February 29. This really just adds to the overwhelming lazy vibe resonating from the majority of the album and this is not the impression you want give listeners after a hiatus in excess of twelve months.

This leaves 알람시계 (Alarm Clock), with which I’m not overly taken. This was one of a couple of songs composed by the members with this particular number being the handiwork of Jonghyun and Minho. Jonghyun also wrote the lyrics to 그자리에 (Honesty)—know in English as Always There (Honesty)—especially for their fans. In the case of 알람시계 (Alarm Clock) the music itself never climaxes and the pinnacle of the song is only highlighted by Jonghyun’s usual wailing in the background. For me, 알람시계 (Alarm Clock) is the most boring track on the album, even taking into account the two ballads. How the hell did that happen?

Now all tracks have been released in full all we can do is await the unveiling of the MV (which I assume to be the 21st alongside the album hardcopy) and judge the stage comeback. The choreography in the teaser looks amazing—to be expected of Tony Testa—and stylistically looks quite dark, which is a step away from the usual rainbow-vomit SHINee we’re all used to. I still have a little excitement left in me for the MV but given the overall laziness of which the album reeks I will be legitimately surprised if the full video is filmed outside SM Entertainment’s trademark box.

Don’t you let me down now, SM.

Concept? SHINee does not have it.

With all these mismatched clues I doubt even Sherlock Holmes himself could piece together this mystery.

When eighteen months elapsed since the last Korean release of Lucifer back in July 2010, Shawols began itching for something new. On March 8 2012 a new teaser indicating the release of fourth mini-album Sherlock spread across the internet.  Now that all five teasers have surfaced—including a group shot—I really do have to question what was going through SM Entertainment’s mind.

SHINee Sherlock

Due to the ridiculous anticipation surrounding SHINee’s comeback SM Entertainment could have released utter rubbish and Shawols would still be flailing left, right and centre. Clearly, that’s what SM elected to do. Speculation around the internet has labelled SHINee’s teaser concept as anywhere from ‘pretty French artsy boys’ to ‘cheap 70s porn’ but no one seems to come up with an accurate and cohesive idea. To add to the confusion, the latest teaser image featuring all five members illustrates a group of vagabonds in rainbow crochet. Shawols and netizens alike simply have no idea what SHINee are trying to be and with all these mismatched clues I doubt even Sherlock Holmes himself could piece together this mystery.

Minho 'SHERLOCK'

Let’s start with Minho, which was by my calculation an awful choice for the initial teaser. With his muscle definition all but melted away (or photoshopped away, by some netizens’ understanding) there is nothing at all sexual or even pretty about Minho’s shoot. What I see is a perverse image of an adolescent on the cusp of manhood entering into a bizarre role play where he has assumed the character of an infant awaiting his mother. This is perhaps thanks to the bottle pressed to his lips but regardless, this image is disturbing. And don’t even get me started on that hair.

Taemin 'SHERLOCK'

Taemin’s teaser had noonas everywhere shouting child porn. Ignoring the fact he turns nineteen this year (twenty by Korea’s reckoning) this image does have a notion of innocence played off against intense sexuality. No doubt Taemin’s appearance is at the heart of many netizens’ concerns: he does have the body of a young adolescent and a face devoid of all aspects of masculinity. That long, lavender hair does not help things at all. Taemin’s collection of teasers is by far the most erotic and the disgusted outcry it was bound to illicit has certainly achieved one very important thing: the K-pop world is now talking about Sherlock.

Onew 'SHERLOCK'

I am not at all surprised Onew bucked the trend of shirtless images. Being the oldest of the group he was one member I was comfortable with seeing half-naked, bested only by Jonghyun, but—of course—shirtless Onew was not to be. Despite his teasers being the most uninspiring of the lot, it’s nice to see him alive and well given his MIA status since New Years’ Eve. Welcome back, Leader.

Key 'SHERLOCK'

I found Key’s teaser to be disappointingly bland considering his status as resident diva amongst the group. Aside from his green hair—which is obviously just a temporary rinse—Key is relatively normal. His shoot, however, does pick up the decadent feel that was lost with Onew’s teasers but is nowhere near as scandalous as Taemin’s or Minho’s. The main point which had Shawols talking was his ‘lip ring’, which to me looks more like glittery herpes than any form of body piercing.

Jonghyun 'SHERLOCK'

Finally it was Jonghyun’s turn and for once SM Entertainment did not disappoint. Well, sort of. Shawols—myself included—were crying out for a shirtless Jonghyun since the noticeable bulking of his muscles at the MBC Gayo Daejun last year. Although we were blessed with nothing more than a taunting nipple, he was at least not wrapped in a blanket like dear Onew. This collection of images, however, are even further removed from a cohesive concept as they are more or less devoid of any theme altogether. With the exception of the last picture, which was obviously cropped from a group photograph, Jonghyun’s images are all headshots showing no setting whatsoever. Obviously SM thought that a little nip-slip was enough to placate Shawols into thinking the images and overall concept was flawless. How wrong they were.

SHINee 'SHERLOCK'

Last and certainly least is the group photograph released yesterday. Let’s pretend for a moment the individual teaser images were inspired by French decadence. If that were the case then how in holy Shisus’ name did they end up looking like a bunch of hippies crammed into the back of a van on their way to Woodstock? I will never have an answer for this. I can only hope the album itself is brilliant to compensate for this wankery. But with SM labelling Sherlock as ‘experimental pop’ I am not holding my breath and instead raising an eyebrow. I am certainly curious, to say the least.

The funny thing about this whole botched concept is SM Entertainment insisting the whole mini-album is inspired by the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. Excuse me, but what?

[Mini-Album] MBLAQ – 100% Ver.

MBLAQ seem content to reinvent themselves with every album and that is certainly what they have achieved with 전쟁이야 [This is War]

When 100% Ver. was announced MBLAQ declared the title reflected their one hundred percent confidence in the assortment of tracks displayed on the mini-album. After taking a listen I can’t help but think—really, MBLAQ?

MBLAQ’s musical style is indeed diverse and this is very much reinforced on this album. Each track on 100% Ver. could not differ more from the previous—it’s hard to believe they’re all contained on the one album by the same artist. This is both the strong and weak point of the album. On one hand we see the breadth of MBLAQ’s talents; on the other we’re overwhelmed with a pile of left-handed gloves—nothing goes together.

Much to the disappointment of people such as myself, the first track released off MBLAQ’s new mini-album was 낙서[Scribble]. I know it seems like I hate ballads, and that’s mostly because I do, but as I emphatically stated in regards to Big Bang’s release of Blue I find nothing more underwhelming than releasing some soppy tune as the initial teaser. I don’t actually hate 낙서[Scribble]—on the contrary I find it to be a beautifully melancholy song—I just hated the fact my first taste of what was a highly anticipated album was a ballad. In any case, the song is okay and, like most of MBLAQ’s releases, showcases G.O’s highly talented vocal chords.  Mir’s rap is always delicious and it was a great surprise to see Seungho join in alongside him. Is there nothing Yang Leader can not do?

The mellow 낙서[Scribble] left me with high expectations of title song 전쟁이야 [This is War]. Through tweets left by Mir about how pleased they were with the MV for this song I could not wait to get my hands on it. Initially, I felt a little robbed. 전쟁이야 [This is War] lacked the tempo I was craving and was very different to the previously released title songs Stay and Mona Lisa. MBLAQ seem content to reinvent themselves with every album and that is certainly what they have achieved with 전쟁이야 [This is War]. The raw, unrestricted emotion pumping through this song is phenomenal; with each listen I am drawn deeper by the understated power. Vocals, lyrics and choreography aside, the soundtrack itself is just breathtaking—you really can’t go wrong with a string accompaniment in a power-track such as this. The outro of the song features a beautiful piano piece and is the cherry on top of the emotional ride MBLAQ ruthlessly dragged you through.

I have a love-hate relationship with the MV for 전쟁이야 [This is War]. I love MVs with a plot. Even if there were a few strange questions raised—why is Joon trying to shoot the love interest at the beginning of the video?; why is Joon so gun-happy?; why is Joon always shooting women?; why is Joon always getting cheated on?—it’s generally straight-forward and encapsulates the emotion of the song beautifully.  The boys’ outfits and choreography were outstandingly sexy—hello leather pants and those oh-so-delicious chest pumps—and the video in general a well-planned masterpiece. It’s so nice to see JTune Camp actually spend time, money and effort on their music videos instead of producing the same low-budget crap time and time again. Yes, that is a stab at SM Entertainment.

The cause of my hate for this video stems from the irritating little dramatic interlude they decide to include smack-bang in the middle of the song. While I understand this scene is essential for showcasing Joon’s curving bullets, it could have been integrated so the flow of the song was not interrupted. There is a number of ways they could have gone about achieving this seamlessly but plonking an unrelated piece of piano in the middle of a song was not one of them. Regardless, this is a great MV and all of MBLAQ’s stage performances were flawless. They were very deserving of their back-to-back wins on M!Countdown.

Shifting gears and Hello My Ex and 아찔한 그녀 [She’s Breathtaking/Jittery Girl/I have no idea what this song is called] provide the low-lights of this patchwork album. 아찔한 그녀 is broken by weird speech recordings courtesy of maknae Mir and Hello My Ex fails to compete with MBLAQ’s previous light-hearted tracks—as ridiculous as it was, 모르겠어요[I Don’t Know] will forever be the best example of a ‘cute’ MBLAQ. Although keeping with being distinctively different of one another, these two songs do not stand up against the emotion of 낙서[Scribble] and 전쟁이야 [This is War] and are better off forgotten.

This leaves opening track Run. I intentionally left this song until last due to its birth yesterday as MBLAQ’s latest piece of promotional material. Run is an interesting composition. Much like the album itself it is all over the place and really not sure what it’s doing. The inclusions of stock audio bits make me simultaneously face-palm and laugh; the song is a little bit of fun and certainly contains ample personality. However, if you are not a lover of rap, I recommend keeping your distance—aside from Mir and Cheondung’s rap verses, the power vocals G.O are lost in an ear-tormenting wail, while Joon and Seungho are relatively unheard of. The choreography is one bucket of awesome, though, and MBLAQ are to be highly commended for their power, dedication and synchronicity.

100% Ver. may not be the perfect album MBLAQ proclaim it to be but it still contains many merits. Its diversity may appear on the surface to be a shambles but beneath its messy appearance is a well-rounded final product. If you ignore the disasters that are 아찔한 그녀 and Hello My Ex the depth of MBLAQ’s capabilities are very much explored and should provide the boys’ with a solid platform for their next endeavour.

Papa Rain can and should be proud of the effort gone into half  this album and all related promotional performances. A+ certainly are.

[Mini-Album] Big Bang – Alive

An album made with too much hype, too much expectation and too much angst.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Big Bang’s new album ever since T.O.P’s ridiculous teaser depicting him as a hospitalised leather daddy surfaced on the internet. Not because I’m a particularly huge fan of Big Bang—I would hardly describe myself as anything remotely resembling a VIP—but due to the hype surrounding their long-awaited comeback.

The first thing I did this morning was get my hands on a copy of this hot little mini-album. I avoided YG Entertainment’s stream of teaser audio clips so I could fully appreciate the tracks the moment the album dropped. Perhaps had I spoiled myself with the previews I might have been saved by the overwhelming disappointment I was faced with after completing my first play-through. I thought Blue was going to be the only downside to the album; however it just appeared to be another notch in a series of mellow soft-pop tracks creating an album made with too much hype, too much expectation and too much angst.

I’ve previously expressed how irked I am by introductory tracks and INTRO (ALIVE) is no exception. It’s a superfluous inclusion which offers nothing the album title doesn’t already provide. We get it, Big Bang: you’re still alive. Even if it doesn’t seem like it with this album.

I first want to talk about Blue. This track was released with an accompanying MV prior to the official album drop on February 29—I see what you did there, YG—and is, to be frank, a disappointment. Whoever’s decision it was to promote an upcoming album with a yawn-inducing ballad should seriously rethink their career in the music industry. While VIP will defend Blue’s emotional depth and beauty until they pass out from lack of oxygen to the brain, the fact remains the song is boring and not the best choice for instilling excitement within the average Kpop consumer. And this is not just a stab at Big Bang or YG Entertainment: I question the decisions of all labels that drop a ballad as the first taste of a new album. MBLAQ, I’m looking at you.

When I saw Bad Boy was released with an MV alongside the album I assumed this track to be the trump card, something powerful to compensate for the gentle and depressing Blue. But once again Big Bang betrayed my expectations. While Bad Boy is not the yawn-fest that is Blue, it presents itself in a very similar manner and severely damages the depth of the album. 사랑먼지[Love Dust] and 재미없어[Ain’t No Fun] are just as bland. While slightly more upbeat than the previously discussed tracks, they are still cut in much the same fashion and do not inspire me to continue listening outside the requirements of this review. 재미없어[Ain’t No Fun] is exactly as the title suggests—no fun. The vocals are flat and the rap devoid of attitude, passion and personality, which seems a common theme throughout Alive.

FANTASTIC BABY is the one saving grace of this mini-album. It’s fun, funky and damn ridiculous. It’s very much out of place amongst the other tracks and this might make it stand out more than it should. Regardless, this is the best track on the album purely for its disco-like shuffle beat and fabulous lyric boom shakalaka.  It’s a refreshingly boppy dance track and the only real indication that Big Bang is in fact Alive.

Finally, this brings me to Daesung’s solo endeavour 날개[Wings]. I’m not sure why they used the limited track space on such an anticipated release by shortening group activities to make space for a solo but in this case it was not a bad move. 날개[Wings] is the second and final little gem buried amongst an overwhelming pile of dirt. With his vocals arguably his best feature, Daesung certainly showcases his beautiful talent with a track that actually has some notion of tonal depth. 날개[Wings] and FANTASTIC BABY are the only songs containing energy and consequently the only ones which stand out. Needless to say, it’s a little depressing for Big Bang as a group when a solo outshines the group projects.

Alive is an over-pumped, over-anticipated disappointment. Having been out of the industry for quite some time (and in the spot-light for all the wrong reasons) I expected them to come back with a little more punch. Instead I was provided with a remorseful pile of angst, with members expressing their Blues and apologising for their Bad Boy ways. It’s a nice sentiment but not something around which a whole album should be based.

Big Bang, you can do better.