Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Junsu - "Tarantallegra" (Album)

I think majority of us are in agreement that if there’s one member in 5-piece DBSK that deserves a solo album the most, it’s Junsu, obviously because he’s the whole package. His voice is this close to becoming a national treasure, his stage presence is something else, and his dancing is pretty good too, so I’ve heard. So when news of a proper solo release came out, everyone freaked out. I'll admit that I was one of those crazy fangirls who were freaking out yesterday over the mere idea of a Junsu solo release, which would lead to an album, but I think it's safe to say now that I've gotten down from that high. So, when all the hype is gone, what are we left with? Well, that's a pretty long story in itself.

There have been a lot of mixed thoughts about "Tarantallegra", both the song and the album, and I completely understand the people who say they don't like it -- more than their personal preference, I get why and what could make them dislike it. However, my response would be that you're looking at the wrong thing. Like what I said in my review of Big Bang's "Alive", you have to look at, and think of, the right element in order to completely appreciate it.

The main focus of "Tarantallegra" isn't the visuals, it isn't the production or even the material itself -- it's Junsu, and how he both shows off and manipulates his stunning vocals. Think about it, the visuals, his clothes and everything, are cringe-worthy most of the time, the production is fine, but nothing I'd rave about, and the songs themselves are actually pretty generic and could've been sung by anyone. The point of this album is really Junsu, and in my opinion, that's what makes a good solo album (from a former idol, that is), because idols who go solo don't need material that overpowers them, they get enough of that in their respective groups, they need material to overpower. Material that just sits there and lets them fly off to wherever. And that takes a certain skill level to be able to do.

I won’t lie and say that this album is everything I expected and more, because it’s not, and I was disappointed when I first heard it because I was expecting everything to be equally brilliant -- the material, the delivery, the production -- but hearing the album now, this is the most ideal way to do a solo album. This isn’t just an album, this is Junsu’s album, and that has to be made very clear. But even that, I'm not entirely sure about.

There are things I don’t like, and the more I listen, the more problems I find. I don’t like the production on the entire album, because it dulls Junsu’s vocals, and in turn, dulls all the songs. Junsu still carries the songs, but dull production is something out of his reach, and it does absolutely nothing for the generic material. The songs don’t have to be loud, because the album is actually pretty soft volume-wise (not dynamics-wise), but I would’ve liked the production to be crisp.

Half of the album, or more than actually, is made up of ballads. I was half-expecting this, as always, but I was also hoping that Junsu wouldn’t go down this route. He’s had enough ballads in and out of DBSK, solo or group, to last him several lifetimes. Some of the ballads on this are gorgeous, of course, and Junsu sings them better than everyone else, but this is the same thing all over again. On the other hand, for a first solo release, sticking with something comfortable may be better. Who knows.

I listened to “Tarantallegra” the song again this morning, and I do agree with some of the comments on yesterday’s single review -- it’s potentially boring, and when I listened to it again without the music video, there were parts what just went on and on and on. However, the song gives me the impression that you really have to look at the entire package (and all it’s ridiculousness) to fully appreciate it. The song leans towards boring by itself, but if you really focus on Junsu’s vocals it’s really something else, and add in the video, Junsu’s performance as a whole in particular, and it gets that much better.

The synths on “Set Me Free” are so Christina (Aguilera) circa-”Keeps Getting Better, and now that I think about it, the entire song is so Christina. Period. It also reminds me a bit of After School’s “Dream” around the edges. But again, the focus of this entire album isn’t the material, which I’ve already deemed average, it’s the delivery. For me, Junsu’s vocals are enough to draw me in.

Okay, fine, “No Pain” isn’t a ballad ballad like “사랑이 싫다구요” or the others in the album, but it’s not the uptempo I wanted either. Although, even as a slow R&B track, I hate to say this, it’s pretty generic. Gorgeous, yes, and I’ll give it to Jaejoong for making something that has his name all over it, but this song is far too frail for anyone to salvage, even Junsu. Nice try, Jaejoong, but this song just didn’t move me.

The problem with “사랑이 싫다구요” is a problem I see in a lot of other Korean ballads, actually -- they’re too low. I was watching K-Pop Star a few weeks back, and from what I got the industry opinion on these things is that they’re “emotional”. I’m sorry, but the only thing this song does to me is give me a sore throat. The same goes for “알면서도”, a few tracks later. It has OST song written all over it, but honestly, at this point it sounds too much like a better-sung version of “사랑이 싫다구요” in the right key.

Which is why, while the choruses of both songs are gorgeous and Junsu’s voice takes center stage, as it should, I prefer “돌고 돌아도”, not just because it’s in waltz-time, even if that’s a major reason too. Junsu’s singing in the right range, and we actually get the chance to feel the emotion, because he isn’t scratching our throats anymore. And the arrangement laced with the ever so slightly oriental melody has a much more natural flow than the previous song. If “Mulan” had one of those ballroom scenes appropriated for China, this would be the song playing.

This is pretty rare, but I actually like the Korean arrangement of "Intoxication" better than the Japanese one -- I adore the guitar line, in all its crisp glory and how it contrasts the vocal treatment (which, for once, matches the song) and the dynamics have much more punch here. But “Intoxication” is a brilliant song regardless.

I’m a bit disappointed with the number of uptempos though -- there are only four proper uptempo tracks. But at least they were spaced out and put between multiple ballads. Between “Breath” and “Fever”, I prefer “Fever”, but “Breath” is isn’t half-bad either. It’s very Simon Curtis circa-”8Bit Heart”, the arrangement especially. But “Fever” is something I’d imagine he’d bring to the US. I’m not entirely sure if it would work in terms of sales, but it works for Junsu because he sings with such ease and conviction, especially the chorus, which is glorious on all levels.

And the best song on the album? “Lullaby”. It’s stunning, and it was made and executed with a musical mindset. The arrangement half of the package, because it’s just as stunning as the delivery. The strings and chymes that lead into a very clean drum kit and gentle but confident synths, especially. Junsu sang the entire song flawlessly, and he really sounds his best on this song -- both technically and emotionally. He turned a potentially cheesy and lounge-y song into something stunning.

I’m pretty sure I’ve heard “이슬을 머금은 나무” somewhere before, but I can’t quite remember where. Nevertheless, it’s another gorgeous ballad, and currently fighting with “돌고 돌아도” for my second favorite song. It’s the kind of song that lulls you to sleep, not because it’s boring, but because it’s gorgeous and it relaxes you. Epic string section? Check. Half-real drums? Check. Junsu’s stunning voice? Check. Check. Aaaaaand Check.

Tarantallegra” is an okay album, boring around the edges, yes, but I think another dimension to it is that Junsu himself is very comfortable with the material on it, so he delivers it much better than it actually is. Fair enough.

My favorite: "Lullaby"
Song(s) I'd listen to again: "돌고 돌아도", "이슬을 머금은 나무", "Fever", "Set Me Free"
My least favorite: "사랑이 싫다구요"
The final verdict: 3.9/5

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