Friday, January 25, 2013

Kim Jaejoong - "I"

I've made it no secret that the mere idea of a Jaejoong solo album/release other than drama OSTs is enough to bring out the (not-so-hidden) fangirl within me, and so when it was finally announced, officially, that Jaejoong's solo album was one, going to be released, and two, a rock-influenced release, as you may have guessed and seen, I flipped. Tears of joy included.

But before I go to the actual review I think it's important to talk about how I approached this album, because I'll be taking off from there. It's been very clear that Jaejoong's "I" is intended to be a rock release , so when the lead single came out I tried to look at it as rock. Let's just say I didn't get very far.

For the most part, genre is something I've rarely had to deal with since switching to K-Pop -- either I just stuck to mainstream pop and/or the acts I already liked (whose conventions I knew pretty well), or if I did go into genre, it was always secondary to a more general point. But then again, I've never been really a genre type of listener -- I like what I like and if it happens to be something other than, well, mainstream pop I guess, then that's that. But the problem with that kind of approach is that there are instances when different genres really do demand different ways of looking at them, and there are canons in those genres that exist/must be followed for a reason. Or, more often than not, acts try to "channel" a certain genre, and so the basis for evaluation is ultimately how well that genre is interpreted. Probably one of the main reasons why I can talk about rock and still make some kind of sense is because it still has clear melody and harmony, but as far as the canons of rock go I'm pretty useless. I've heard a fair amount of it, but I'm far from well-versed.

But ultimately, if you think about it "I" is still a pop album. Whether or not the reasons are far too elementary doesn't discount the fact that they're still valid. And so I'm approaching this album like I would any other pop album.

The most disappointing part of this EP is, like other JYJ releases, the production -- something I really cannot understand. If C-Jes has enough money to quite literally burn on the music video, then they should have enough to spend on getting good production for, you know, the actual music. It really irks me because JYJ aren't dirt poor, and more importantly, they're not completely clueless when it comes to music -- but then the EP, and basically all their releases, show how little they value production. It's kind of like cooking -- you want to make this really great dish and you buy all the ingredients, but you don't choose the freshest/best ones so it's not as good as it should be. And I'm even more disappointed because Jaejoong has been in music for so long -- I expected him to know better and I expected him to step in if he thought the production team wasn't doing things well.

But beyond trivial things like the quality of production, if there's one point I've been sure of since I first heard the EP, it's that "I" is not an album. It's an album in the mechanical, textbook sense -- it has several tracks release simultaneously and packaged in one release -- sure, but it's not an album in the musical sense. I didn't hear a binding thread, I didn't hear one entirety -- I heard five different songs. Those five songs aren't really bad, they aren't individually all over the place and neither is the album actually, but for me that lack of chaos, whether good or bad, is even worse than being a mess. It's like the album just doesn't care. It's not effortlessness because that needs a sense of arrogance, it's nonchalance, and it bothers me.

Like I said, the songs aren't bad individually, and they're actually interesting songs, but the problem starts when you put them together and try to make something of them, because it's not possible. I've tried to, but every time the songs just fall back into their own little corners.

"One Kiss" was a good pre-release teaser of sorts, because I'm assuming this was the kind of sound the entire EP was going for, and it's actually a really, really gorgeous song. The melody is beautiful, plus Jaejoong's voice is great for and on it -- he gets to channel that lower register we hardly hear, and but he also really soars once the chorus hits. But "One Kiss" is also representative of "I" in the sense that okay, you have all these gorgeous elements and you have this trained, practiced voice executing it, but by the end of the song it didn't really get anywhere. I know what "One Kiss" is trying to do with all these epic elements and this big chorus, and to a certain degree it works, but when you actually hear the song, there's nothing in this song to hold everything together. I don't hear a purpose, I don't hear a direction.

If anything, "MINE" is really good, and so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's the best track on the album, because this was probably the only song that was executed the way it was meant to be. As far as the actual elements go, it's gutsy at times, it's urgent during build-ups, but it's always beautiful when it has to be. It's also that compromise between mainstream and "serious" (whatever "serious" is) that I like -- experiment all you want, but don't use it as an excuse to not make any sense. It's good to know that Jaejoong knows that at the very least. You have these very heavy electric guitars, those haunting synths, and that gutsy drum line that gives the very loud, but actually pretty fragile, guitar line the body that it needs.

What really stood out for me though was how the cohesion of the song was pulled off -- the piano line/break could have sounded out of place and made the song a complete mess, but it didn't. It didn't because it had two things -- cohesion and a shock factor. The piano line would still make sense as a whole if you stuck it between a verse, or even the chorus, but at the same time, as it was in the song, it came very gracefully, yes, but it also came fast enough to make you curious enough to notice it and listen to it again. That ultimately contributes to the dynamics of the entire song -- it's the kind that keeps you on your toes not because you're trying to figure out what in heaven's name is happening, but because it lures you in before giving you all these pleasant, well-executed, surprises.

"MINE" is also the only song on the album which I approve of the production in relation to the rest of the song -- at first glance it seems like the production held the song back, but I thought about what it would've sounded like if the production was cleaner and everything was sharper, and honestly the song would've lost its character. And it's not like the song is lacking in the sharpness department -- even if he gets scratchy (on purpose), Jaejoong's voice alone is clear and graceful enough to give the song that crispness it needs, and it's a very effective contrast against all the very gritty, very gutsy instruments running around.

That's all I really want, to be honest -- something with a clear direction that's well-executed, something that brings out the good and dynamic in Jaejoong's voice, and something that's actually a song. I got that with "MINE". This is the only song on the album that I would listen to because I want to.

"내안 가득히" is the part of the album where the rock aspect pretty much disappears, and it's also where everything starts falling apart. Again, it's a pretty song, with a catchy melody considering the over-all sound, but when I listen to it I can never quite figure out where and how this figures into the album as a whole. As a song it could have been much better -- it should have been much better. The elements are pretty generic to begin with, and except for the quaint melody, the production makes them even worse. I think Jaejoong was trying to go for a kind of contrast between a lower register and this verging on cute melody, but honestly the best parts of the song were when he was singing in higher registers. This would've worked better if it was like "MINE" -- Jaejoong singing in higher registers throughout, and the production giving his fine, crisp, vocals some dimension.

I love the verses on "My Only Comfort", and I love the guitar line that accompanies it because it's both gentle and urgent. Actually, the arrangement of the entire song was really well-done and unlike the song before, Jaejoong's low vocals sound good against both the treatment of the guitar line. If there's one thing the production did right, it's making the guitar line nice a crisp. The chorus, although it loses the friction in the first half, is apt, and by the second time it hits, now with the full band, it starts making sense. The band arrangement was well-done and gave the otherwise boring hook a sort of stage to make it a lot more epic. It worked, but the thing about this song though is that just when I'm about to get what Jaejoong's been trying to do for the last three songs, it just lets go. While alone it's a lot better than "내안 가득히" and maybe even "One Kiss", as part of a whole it's half-baked at best.

"ALL ALONE" took time to warm up to me, but it takes off from "My Only Comfort"'s half-baked qualities and makes some kind of... thing out of it. Like "One Kiss", this is another song representative of the album in all it's mess. For once, the production gets slightly better, and it really brings out the epic quality of the instrumental, with that gorgeous bass line and the really pretty piano line, and the verses are stunning, almost lullaby-like, but then the chorus hits and instead of getting somewhere, or even just going around in a circle, it's like the song just fizzles away. Jaejoong's vocals should've exploded and jumped through hoops and fire and went full steam ahead, but all we got was some whining and whispering. Let's say that this was supposed to be this very ethereal, gentle song -- fine fantastic. But just because it's gentle doesn't mean it doesn't have to grab you anymore. The problem is that they tried to give the song some intensity, with that potentially beautifully gutsy drum line, but when I took a step back and listened to all these "epic" and gentle elements running around the place, no matter how many of them there were, they all sounded bored, and in turn, boring. There's a difference between gentle and boring, and "ALL ALONE" leans more on the boring side.

I tried to understand "I", I really did, after looking through everything, the binding factor on it is basically that there is no binding factor. Some people like that, some people call it "dynamism", some call it "variety", but it's just not what I look for in an album.


1 comment:

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