Let me say this straight off the bat: SHINee’s 2012 comeback is one of my most anticipated comebacks in Korean pop! In 2010, the Korean boyband released “Lucifer,” a song I considered the best k-pop song of 2010 and in my opinion, still one of the best k-pop songs ever! SHINee are also one of my top picks if someone were to ask me who the best boybands in K-pop are. (My personal bias lies with INFINITE though)
That said, that same year also saw me pick 2AM’s ‘Saint O’ Clock’ as the best k-pop album of 2010. I awaited 2AM’s recent comeback with much anticipation too, but when they released their new album, I was quite disappointed. Would SHINEee’s comeback disappoint as well? After all, SHINee are part of SM Entertainment, who I don’t rate highly as far as producing great albums are concerned.
The first track on the mini-album is the title track “Sherlock”
When SM hyped this single, they used the phrase “hybrid remix” to describe “Sherlock”. They said “Sherlock” is a combination of two other songs – “Clue” and “Note” – also included in the album. The song is produced by an all-European production team, which includes Danish producer Thomas Troelsen, the man behind DBSK’s brilliant “Mirotic“. As soon as the beats dropped in “Sherlock,” even before the first lines were sung, I knew who the influence behind the song’s melody was: ’90s Michael Jackson. “Jam” from 1991’s Dangerous was the song that first came to my mind musically, and the chorus reminded me of The Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It“. “Sherlock” is funky, new jack swing-inspired, with the highlight of the song definitely being the soaring chorus. Minho’s rap feels like a pointless addition, and the song does feel a bit Jhonghyun-heavy. Not that it’s a downside, Jhonghyun’s powerful voice suits “Sherlock” more than it does the other members.
As for the MV, it’s typical SM fare. Filmed in a set, the SHINee boys play detectives (duh) with Jessica spooking them over stolen art. It’s kinda corny, but whatever. With SHINee, it’s the dancing that I’m more concerned about. The choreography of their past hits “Replay“, “Juliette” and “Lucifer” are some of the finest in k-pop. The choreography for “Sherlock” is not by their frequent collaborator Rino Nakasone, instead it’s by a guy called Tony Testa. I’m not too familiar with his work but because of all the cuts in the music video, I couldn’t really judge how good the choreography is. So I waited until their first performance on M! Countdown and after watching SHINee’s lip-synched performance… how on earth can they sing live dancing like that? I mean the choreography is good, and different, for SHINee but it must be really tiresome for the boys.
My rating for “Sherlock” – 4/5
2. “Clue” – When this song begins, you feel like “Sherlock” is on replay. The only way you know “Clue” is a stand-alone song is when you don’t hear the “I’m so curious” chorus line. In fact the second song on the album doesn’t really have a chorus, so if I had to rate it on its own merit, all it gets is a 2/5.
3. “Note” – Here’s the other song used to create “Sherlock”. The third track is the one that features the chorus. Upon hearing the first three tracks, I really thought about what came first: “Sherlock,” which was then split into two – or – “Clue” and “Note” first, which were then truly merged to create one fine song worthy of a single release. Ignoring the ‘chicken or egg’ situation, obviously I prefer “Note” to “Clue,” purely because of the chorus. But I don’t know why SM decided to order these three songs back-to-back. You really don’t feel like you are listening to an album when the first three songs all sound very similar. – 3.5/5
4. “Alarm Clock” – The first truly different song on the mini-album. The lyrics were penned by members Jhonghyun and Minho, and this mid-tempo song has a smooth R&B vibe to it thanks to its beat and lingering keyboard hook. The chorus is catchy and it’s a song which gives the other vocalists besides Jhongyun to shine. Which is thoughtful, considering Jhonghyun wrote it. – 3/5
5. “The Reason” – Based on the feedback from many fans, Shawols seem to claim this as one of the best songs on the album. Sadly, I don’t feel that way. It sounds quite uninspired and a bit dated. It’s a power ballad, has a guitar solo (a rarity in K-pop) and the vocals aren’t bad, but it’s just doesn’t stick in my head. Surely the fans will clap along to this one at SHINee’s live concerts. – 2/5
6. “Stranger” – The Korean version of a song originally featured on SHINee’s Japanese album ‘The First‘. Produced by SM Entertainment’s in-house producer Kenzie, this is just an album filler of a song. Sounds dated and a bit like an older Super Junior’s song. – 2/5
7. “Honesty” – The last song on the mini-album is an acoustic ballad and according to the writing credits, seems to be a Korean version of a song by American singer Brandon Faley. So I looked up Brandon Faley online, came across a Twitter profile and asked him if he’s the guy behind this song. He replied back:
Bits of the song reminded me of the Eric Clapton hit “Change the World“. It’s relaxing, and the boys vocals prove to be a blend of pure bliss on this song. – 3/5
If there’s one immediate take away from listening to every song on this album, it’s how there is no auto tune or at least limited use of effects to ‘enhance’ the vocals. I rate SHINee highly as far as boybands go simply because they are a brilliant combination of good vocalists (minus looker Minho) paired with superior dancing skills. Plus they’re a reasonable five member group. If the members could speak English fluently, SHINee could have easily been a good contender to venture into the Western market with English songs. The Wanted and One Direction will have to stand back and watch if they saw a SHINee performance in comparison.
But I digress. Back to ‘Sherlock’ and why I chose to state that headline. Yes, I’ll say it again. SM are bloody lazy when it comes to putting out a ‘great’ Korean album. They can pull of a brilliant Japanese release, like they did with Girls Generation’s first Japanese album, but when it comes to offering an equivalent Korean release with consistent album tracks, it’s as if management just throw their hands up in the air and go: “Meh, why bother? Fans will buy it anyway”. I may have bought the Hello re-package album, but I only picked it up in Manila just so I paid my part for a stellar song like “Lucifer”. I have hardly listened to that album since. As a single, “Sherlock” doesn’t out-do “Lucifer,” because trying to out-do that song would take quite a feat. But “Sherlock” stands well enough on its own – it’s a good new song. As for the rest of the album, it’s just ‘okay’ as far as I’m concerned.
Who knows, SM Ent. probably did this intentionally. For all you know there’s a re-package album on its way soon after the “Sherlock” promotions end. Update: Yup, I was right. New full album coming in second half of 2012.
My final rating for the mini-album ‘Sherlock’ is…