Although it’s been three months and seven days since this album dropped on May 18, 2015 and I am woefully late in writing this review, it does not change the fact that this is one fantastic collection of music. The focus of SHINee’s fourth studio album is their longevity and success as a frontrunner in K-pop. The album does just that. It showcases their maturity and how far they have come since their debut in 2008. Song choice reflects their greatly increased technical abilities and musical understanding. Tone quality of their voices and the cohesiveness of the harmonies reflect their obvious comfort with each other as a group and how they’ve learned to balance their musical aesthetic.
The eleven-song album itself shows a lot more thought in its song order and song selection. It hits a hard R&B groove in songs such as “Odd Eye”, “Love Sick”, and “Trigger” that throw back to their earlier days. In these songs we can hear how SHINee has grown leaps and bounds since their formative years as an idol group. Vocal tone quality is fuller, smoother, and less forced. They are now ability to tackle more complex harmonies and rhythms and that is proven in the song choice. SM gave them a difficult job and they championed it.
For this review we are implementing the cheese rating system. This album is a rich, flavorful cheese that can only be described as “gouda”. This album is “gouda” for you!
This song is our hands down favorite, Lil’ Raine’s and mine. It opens with a catchy cello and bass line (of course I LOVE IT! Low string powa!) It’s such a strong album opening both because the beginning of the song immediately draws you in with the cello line and the funky rap, and because the entire song foreshadows the complexity of texture, melody, harmony, hooks, and general fun of the album. “Odd Eye” is a hard grooving song with slick interactions between melody and rap that are well supported by the texture (type and number of instruments) beneath it. When Key and Minho rap, we hear lots of percussion and drums. When the boys are singing, the melodic instruments chime in. As the song progresses, the texture thickens and makes the hook interesting rather than repetitive. The beat beneath the melodic interplay is strong and well-varied. Also, this is one sexy song. Their first album appealed to the masses because of their youth. Now our boys are men…and their music reflects that. *wipes tears* My babies are all grown up.
At the start of this song I thought, “Well, this is very typically SHINee.” It has the sound of Romeo and The Year of Us, youthful and hopeful in its simplicity of melody and beat. But then it starts to develop and the boys tackle some pretty difficult syncopations and complex harmonies. It’s levity makes it a great follow up to the harder sounding “Odd Eye”. It’s easy to hear how the boys’ voices have matured in this slower, more sustained melodic song. Their instruments are fuller and more powerful. In particular I notice that Minho has matured and become more confident in his singing.
When I heard this song while watching the music video I was not at all impressed. Perhaps it was because I didn’t care much for the video (although I did very much like the choreography!) But listening to the song alone highlights again the maturity of the song and its composition. This is due more to how it is written. The execution of the vocals is strong, but the melody isn’t difficult. It’s the beat that is laid down that gives this house music its groove. It is more complex than their earlier dance music and the bass groove really drives it forward and gives it depth – pun intended. I do love how the vocals are more evenly distributed amongst the members as the group matures.
This immediately reminded me of the “Hitchhiking” chorus from Dream Girl, which isn’t a bad thing. I love that song! “Romance” also has a dance feel much like Jamiroquai’s catchy tunes. What makes this song deviate from the normal SHINee style is all the interesting harmonies – they do not go where you expect them to go. There are a lot of dissonant chords that are really hard to sing. Basically dissonance in music means that the notes don’t always jive together, and that creates tension. It’s got a bit of a Latin groove and a bit of doo-wop. The mix of styles make it fun. K-pop is often comprised of what can seem an incongruous blend that somehow comes together. The acapella ending is fantabulous.
SHINee is not a group that normally takes on hard hitting songs in any genre, but they take on “Trigger”, an intense mix of hiphop and R&B. The rhythmic play of the bass drives it forward and provides a rhythmic harmony to Minho and Key’s intense raps. I particularly love the interaction between the raps and the melodic interjections by Onew and Jonghyun. Like “Romance”, “Trigger” is harmony heavy, perhaps surprisingly so. In such a sexy, heavy song, harmony could seem out of place, but again, this song was very well chosen. I don’t think a younger Shinee could’ve handled this, but at this age, the group performs it with a well-practiced edge as they show of their vocal ranges and grasp of complex rhythms.
Farewell My Love
This is a pretty typical R&B ballad that is a good follow up to the heavier “Trigger”. Like the other ballads on the album, it isn’t as strong as the faster tempo songs. It’s a good connection song on the album that I’m sure will grow on me. After the first listen I wasn’t wowed because it doesn’t have any elements that make it unique like the other songs do. SHINee ballads often have some stunning vocals, and this one was no different, but melodically it didn’t go anywhere too exciting. That doesn’t mean the song is bad, but it just wasn’t as immediately as addicting as those that came before it.
An Ode to You
A violin melody immediately caught my attention when the song began. The instrumentation is pretty simple at the start of this: keys and strings. It reminds me a lot of the music style of the Secret Garden OST with the gradually crescendo in dynamics, range and scope of instrumentation from keys and strings to a full orchestra (or a synthesized one) and a drum set. This song showcased the boys’ vocals yet again. It is quite simple compared to the rest of the album, and that provided a nice contrast. Plus you can’t go wrong with cheesy strings. I like to think of it as fondue mozzerella. Nom.
This song is off kilter R&B that is really busy in its composition with a great bassline running through it that pulls it all together. It is most definitely more adventurous than anything SHINee has attempted before and borrows from heavier rap elements usually heard for groups like The Roots or even some early Busta Rhymes. We hear it often with Block B, Tiger JK, or GD in K-pop. SHINee is now tackling more difficult rhymes and it’s pretty amazing to hear how much Minho’s and Key’s diction has improved.
At first glance, the song title threw me off. WTF, mate? But don’t let it fool you ‘cause this is one hoppin’ song. It’s a swing-tastic swing number that walks the 12-bar blues like no one’s business. It’s got a little funk mixed with a walking bass and an Onew who seems like he was made for the genre. SHINee channels Count Basie and Benny Goodman with a big band sound behind them and an awesome breakdown in the middle of the song. This one will make you wanna dance. You know you wanna. I know I did!
Taemin starts this song. He’s been doing a lot of that on their last few albums/EPs/singles. He’s getting stronger and that was evidenced in his solo debut. This song channels Jackson 5 and again, the unity found in a group aged seven years. This song showcases much stronger transitions than perky tunes like it on early albums. By that I mean Jonghyun will hit a badass high note and the mood of the song will change beneath him in the instrumentation and the other members. This creativity is what “Farewell My Love” lacked – a hook. Something catchy to set it apart from the genre that SHINee so loves to delve into (or SM chooses for them to dive into) – catchy dance music.
The album closes with a lower key song that closes out the exciting mix of songs. It takes advantage of the lower registers of the boys. Lower registers are often left unused in K-pop in favor of the flashier falsetto and high tenor belt ranges. This song takes advantage of the full ranges of these talented young men. The harmony is full unlike the normal phone-waving ballads where everyone belts in unison. I’m impressed by their pitch. Yes, this is an album and auto tune gets used, but the distinct lack of manipulation is what makes this stand out from previous albums.
Overall, I’m impressed with this set of tunes. I usually only like a few songs on each album, but this a strong 4th album that deserves it’s place in the limelight. In fact, Lil’ Raine and I drove around the mountains to test it out. If it makes you feel like driving in the beautiful Rockies, it’s a good album – it made us feel great! It’s “gouda” cheese.