Sunday, July 1, 2012

Super Junior - "Sexy, Free & Single"

Time really flies, doesn't it? It seems like just yesterday when I was flailing over the brilliance that is "Sorry Sorry", kicking and screaming over the disaster that was "Bonamana", and not talking about "Mr. Simple" until I had to. Here we are again, with another Super Junior album. Their sixth! Now they're just making me feel old.

Like a lot of albums this year, so I've noticed, I had zero expectations for this. I mean at the back of my mind I was expecting the usual SM formula of lead single, token uptempo, and ballads for everything else, but another part of me wanted this album to be good, for reasons even I'm not so sure. Maybe, just maybe, SM would bring out something brilliant, because they are perfectly capable of it. The teaser didn't do anything to those expectations, but I'm afraid this album is a whole different story.

Or rather, a non-existent story. Brace yourselves for another snooze-fest, my friends. Although, in defense, this isn't a snooze-fest because all the songs are lost causes. There are some songs in here that actually have a lot of potential if done right. But ultimately, that's also where the problem is. Super Junior have been around for seven years now -- this is their sixth album, and it's still mediocre. Potential, and "it would be better if..."'s are for groups in their first two or three years, not for senior groups who have almost immeasurable stature in K-Pop.

The execution is another major problem, and it's the part of the album I'm most disappointed in. I expected much, much, better. Their half-baked, bored execution is yet another indication that they most probably know that this album isn't any good. But that's not the way to do it, because a lot of these songs could've been decent with a bit of conviction and fearless execution.

Just last week I was talking about fearless pop, courtesy of Jokwon's brilliant album, and how apt that was, because Super Junior have showed us the exact opposite, in the form of the album's lead single. "Sexy, Free and Single" is an over-all good idea for a song, executed in a scared and confused way. The verses are strong, both vocally and arrangement-wise, with SM's always-strong production sweeping in and tying everything together. It has the right combination of groove and stiff synths, and the melody is gorgeous. The bridges get even better on all levels, leading to what I think is a chorus, still well-executed and with very apt vocal treatment, and then BAM, the build up abruptly disappears into a generic, overused and annoying Super Junior chanting session. It doesn't even dissolve or fizzle -- it just stops in mid-air and goes straight to the disaster. The middle 8 that follows another repetition of that cycle is beautiful, but the hook comes in again and ruins everything. Everything.

What happened, SM? I was this close to calling "Sexy, Free and Single" a good song!

Lack of cohesion aside, the biggest problem is that the part of the song that messes everything up is, in K-Pop, the single most important part. Of anything. K-Pop songs depend of their hooks to get people listening -- the hook is the part that's played on variety shows or when members dance. This is the part that will get the most airtime outside of the song, and it's crap, because they can't see through what they started. Because they're afraid.

Pop should be fearless. End of story.

Actually, I wasn't that let down with the album just yet, because while the lead single was a let-down, it wasn't exactly as big as a disaster as some of Super Junior's other mistakes. That and "From U" is actually a pretty song. At this point I was actually going "now that's how you do it, SuJu" -- because this had the conviction I was looking for, laced with a pretty melody and a quaint instrumental. It's a song that isn't hard to listen to, but then I realized that that's pretty much all it will amount to. Countless listens will wear it out, somewhat like a pair of your most comfortable shoes. They're still comfortable compared to other shoes, but time creates a big gap between how they are now, and how they were when they were new. What you hear outright is what you get with "From U", and for now that will do, but this lacks the dimension needed to sustain this for the long-run.

I spoke too soon though, because the second I heard "Gulliver", I knew that was where this album was going to rapidly fall. Hard. This song was an absolute pain to listen to, partially because the chanting, and everything else, was too low, and as a whole, everyone was trying way too hard. Waaaaaay too hard. This is half the songwriter's fault, half SuJu's. I can't tell whether they're rapping okay or singing badly during the verses, the bridge is a mess with random belting from people like Ryeowook, and then when it gets to the point where the song is supposed to explode and blow everyone away with something like a more packed belting session (if it was like that it would've been okay), the song leads to "Gulliver" being chanted over and over and over again and I just wanted everything to stop. Just when I thought nothing could be worse, out of nowhere it's like someone fiddled with the tempo controls, slowed the chanting down, and just slapped a completely new part in the last thirty seconds, where the song ends. Just like that. And you're left scratching your head going "what the hell did I just hear?"

If you listen really, really, reeeeeeeally hard, "Someday" is actually a pretty song. But it's the kind of song that just sits there, waiting for you to notice it when it's not actually that pretty. It's a song that's neither exceptionally stunning nor pathetically bad, but it's those songs that need to work especially hard, because they're the closest to being amazing, and it's highly possible that they will be. With a little push, which this song doesn't have. Blame it on the fact that it's not just KRY, or on the boring arrangement (that even my beloved strings couldn't save), bottom line is, this song could've been so much more. Scrap that cheesy instrumental before the middle 8, make the vocals a little more interested, and make things explode -- that would've been pretty stunning, if you asked me.

"NOW" is clearly a filler track, there's no other plausible explanation of why this song is on this album when it's so out of place. It's also ridiculously confused. I get that they want to be all melodic, tongue-in-cheek, British pop-rock, and that's actually what the song is, but the problem is that it's so anticlimactic. They shouldn't have chorused the chorus (that makes sense, okay! it does!), because SuJu chorus vocals are thin to start with, and the production on this song was also very light and airy.

"Rockstar" begins what I call the boring electronica and ballad parade of "Sexy, Free and Single", which has replaced the lone sleep-inducing ballad parade, but it's still just as bad.

In fairness to them, "Rockstar" isn't as bad as it was when I first heard it, and I was actually this close to saying it was pretty okay (which has been happening with a lot of the songs on this album, if you've noticed), but then the "Oh. My. God. I'm. So. Hot." line came up and my perpetual face palm for this song returned. I don't really have an exceptionally big problem with songs like this if they're done right, but the Super Junior version sounds half-baked and scared, and that kind of delivery makes songs like this funny. If you're going to do fierce, you have to do it fearlessly.

We have a little break from all the up tempos courtesy of "Bittersweet", and when I say interlude, I actually mean filler track #2. (In comparison to the rest of the album, at least.) It's the type of song that just goes right through you because while it's right in between bad and good, there are no major parts that can be tweaked to make it ever so slightly better, or worse. This is the most this song will be, and it falls short. Everything from the boring melody to the directionless instrumental.

And the same goes for "Butterfly", actually. The instrumental is interesting at the beginning, and the melody is a noble idea, but it's just so boring it hurts. "Bittersweet" is actually slightly better than "Butterfly", because at least it doesn't have the overpowering synths and horrid chanting laced together.

"Daydream" is yet another diamond in the rough. And at this point I'm very frustrated because after seven years of work, I expected sparkly, edgy and stunning diamonds, and now that I'm at the tail end of the display, they're either still graphite, or really rough diamonds. I mean "Daydream" has a pretty melody, but right now I could name over a hundred other songs with pretty melodies. Like everything else on this album, it doesn't demand your attention -- it doesn't sparkle.

"A 'Good' Bye" has a bit more sparkle, thank goodness. What makes me like this song a little more is that it actually tries to be a little more interesting. All the little details here and there, like the guitar line and the string section, plus the gimmicks like the ticking clock -- they try to catch your attention. It's mostly in vain because the song still bores to death, but after everything else, seeing some kind of initiative is obviously better. An okay way to end the album, given the circumstances.

Super Junior are supposed to be one of the "forerunners" of K-Pop, of pop music in Asia. But tell me, how are they supposed to live up to that title if even they are afraid of pop? If even they, after seven years, countless awards and industry influence at their disposal, cannot, for the lives of them, deliver a fearless pop album?

The Best: From U
The Better: Sexy, Free and Single
The Worst: "Gulliver"
The Rating: 1.5/5

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