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U-KISS – ‘Collage’ album review: Will Ryan Jhun’s third charm prove lucky?

U-KISS are a group I have written about on more than one occasion. In fact, the first time I wrote about them was back in 2011 for their second album ‘Neverland‘ – an article which is now my second most viewed post (after those SuJu boys)! But despite the many praises I have given U-Kiss’ since, the group have yet to nab a win on any music program despite great singles like “Stop Girl“.

Aside from a few misses like “Dora Dora,” U-Kiss have put out some great songs (in both Korean and Japanese) courtesy of the brilliant songwriter and producer Ryan Jhun. The guy is now only second to Sweetune as far as my favourite K-pop producers go. Has he produced another smash single?

U-kiss collage album cover Standing Still
Will third time be a charm for the boys?

Here’s a track-by-track review:

01. “Step by Step” (Intro) – When I heard this dubstep track I thought to myself: “Oh they’re still doing the dubstep thing huh?”

02. “Standing Still” – The lead single:

Has the Ryan Jhun-magic worked again? Hell yes!

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! “Standing Still” is dance-pop perfection in every sense, and it keeps getting progressively better after the first chorus. It’s also a song in which every U-Kiss member gets a fairly equal opportunity to voice themselves in singing or rapping without having to sound forced. The song structure is solid and the overall production slick.

It’s obvious this song was written in English first and then translated to Korean because it’s not just the chorus, but the whole song would sound great if it was sung in English. The music video and choreography though… a bit disappointing. The MV appears a bit low-budget and the cuts are far too quick. The dance choreography doesn’t feel very original either.

Which is too bad, because “Standing Still” is a brilliant song that deserved a better visual. – 5/5

03. “숨도 못 쉬어” – As soon as Ryan Jhun’s brilliance ends, we’re back in familiar K-pop territory. It’s a good uptempo song and although I didn’t feel the chorus at first listen, it grew on me after a repeat or two. If Soo Hyun’s voice dominated “Standing Still,” this time around Kevin’s vocals stand out. – 3/5

04. “Missing You” – The pace is mellowing. The tempo is still there, but here’s a sweeter track to change things up a bit. It’s not my kind of song but I was starting to get the feeling it’s all going downhill from here on. – 2/5

05. “나쁘다” – The first ballad on the tracklist and just as I was about to skip it, the song started to get better. Proof U-Kiss are now a complete package ever since the member shake-up of 2011. – 3/5

06. “아픔보다 아픈” – A duet by Soohyun and Hoon. A proper ballad in every expected bit and sound. Listenable but nothing special, and definitely a song structure heard in a million other K-pop ballads. – 2/5

07. “My Reason” – Kevin’s solo track, and it’s another ballad. Kevin has every right to be in the forefront. He looks good, can dance and sing very well. Good to see him carry a song all on his own. – 3/5

08. “Party All The Time” – Eli and AJ now get a song for themselves. Both of them are obviously not known for their singing abilities so I didn’t have high hopes for this track. A bit silly at first listen, but it kinda grew on me and realized it suits both their personalities. – 2/5

09. “Sweety Girl” – As soon as the guitar riff hit I thought I was going to hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but it fortunately ended up being a sweet pop song instead. Albeit one of album-filler quality. – 2/5

10. “사랑하니까” – The final track on the album is actually better than the few songs above it. It has a bit of ’90s-techno vibe going for it to end the album on a good note. – 3/5

I don’t find ‘Collage’ as good as an album ‘Neverland’ was — as a complete package I mean. I do like the fact few of the members got songs of their own, instead of turning every track into a group song even when you know one or two voices would suffice. That said, “Standing Still” is hands down the best song on the album and its production values trounce the rest of the album tracks.

In my three years of reviewing K-pop albums, I’ve gotten used to albums where apart from one or two songs, the rest of the album is a dud. Many a times companies do this knowing how the Korean music market operates. I just hope – and I’ve said this on every U-Kiss review – that this time the boys win at least one award on the music shows. I personally don’t care about the music show awards, but it would be nice to see a good song being rewarded and the boys rejoicing over a win. Since their debut in 2008, and despite notching up many hit singles, it’s strange U-Kiss have yet to win. It’s always disappointing to see good talent under-appreciated.

So again, I end this U-Kiss review with the same hope: at least one win.

My final rating for U-KISS – ‘Collage’: 2.5 out of 5 (Average)

SHINee – ‘Chapter 1. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You’ album review

*whispers*SHINee’s back*whispers*

Although SM Entertainment announced last year that SHINee‘s comeback would come a few months after “Sherlock” was released, it didn’t happen. I guess they had a change of plan. And so – 11 months later – SHINee officially makes a comeback — in two parts.

Shinee Dream Girl album cover
Part 1 is ‘Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You’

Let’s just get straight into the review:

1. “Spoiler” – No, they aren’t trolling you with the intro, which sounds exactly how “Sherlock” starts. Penned by member Jhong Hyun and cleverly containing all the titles of the songs in the album, the opening track is actually produced by Thomas Troelsen – the same Danish songwriter behind “Sherlock”. The chorus, although heavily processed, is the best bit. A recurring theme as you will see. – 4/5

2. “Dream Girl” – The lead single:

Oddly enough, I wasn’t blown away like I assumed I would be. I heard the audio when “Dream Girl” first released and thought it was just okay. A listenable track, yes, but nothing special. The chorus — which is what made “Sherlock” so good — is just okay this time around. The rest of the song also felt a bit plain.

But when the music video came out, I watched the dance version first — because I’m always more keen on seeing SHINee dance! Again, the choreography was… okay; and I didn’t like the song any better. It wasn’t until I watched the actual MV that I appreciated the song more. For once, SM produces a video that isn’t one of their typical box videos, and actually attempts to do something different this time around. With all the bouncing off the walls, waking up from their dreams and flickering outfits, I somehow enjoyed the song more with these visuals.

No comments on the pants though. A good song, but not a SHINee “classic” in my opinion. – 3/5

3. “Hitchhiking/히치하이킹” – Another strong chorus-driven song. When the album sampler hit YouTube, this was the first song that I fell in love with it. Funky instrumentation with a rap verse that doesn’t sound forced for once. Definitely one of my favourite songs on the album. – 4/5

4. “Punch Drunk Love” – SM describes this song as: “cute melody with the lyric that compares the feeling of being in love to the dizziness that comes after getting a punch in a boxing”. Okay. Adam Sandler’s movie of the same name aside, this song reinforces the vibe the album producers were going for throughout: 1970s funk. Another good song! – 3/5

5. “Girls, Girls, Girls” – After four songs more or less on the same tempo train, SHINee slows things down with this upbeat ballad. It’s a good song girls will sure love, but somehow it’s always noticeable how most Koreans pronounce it “gurls” 🙂 – 3/5

6. “Aside” – Another upbeat ballad reminiscent of a classic ’70s love song. The verses give way to a catchy chorus that is sure make it on to some OST. Really loving the songs on this album so far! – 4/5

7. “Beautiful/아름다워” – The second song I instantly fell in love with from the album sampler was this track. Again, because of the chorus! So very Michael Jackson (or The Jacksons), which should be obvious when you find out this song is composed by longtime MJ-producer Teddy Riley! – 4/5

8. “Dynamite/다이너마이트” – By now we should be expecting at least some album filler material, but I couldn’t write this song off simply because the chorus comes to the rescue yet again. – 3/5

9. “Runaway” – The final track on the album sounds different from everything else up to this point. The sound mixing enhances the boy’s natural vocals but other than that, this very much a K-pop track that I probably wouldn’t be listening to a whole lot after this review goes live. – 2/5

Shinee Dream Girl MV screencap The one phrase I could use to describe this album is best summed up by Roxette’s greatest hits album ‘Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus!‘. It couldn’t be more true for most of the songs on the tracklist. Just when you think the songs are worth skipping, the choruses make you reconsider. Although most of the tracks are composed by Thomas Troelsen and hitchiker, there’s still an overarching theme that is consistent from start to finish.

Clearly influenced by 1970’s funk and pop, it’s a refreshing sound in today’s electronic world, and no better suited than for SHINee. A group that showed how well they could pull off Michael Jackson-esque music with songs like “Juliette” years ago. SHINee’s vocalists (especially the powerful Jhong Hyun) can certainly pull it off in style.

That said, “Dream Girl” certainly isn’t a song I find myself going back to a lot. I still listen to “Lucifer,” “Sherlock,” “Replay” and Juliette” at least once a month. I doubt “Dream Girl” will join that playlist. As for the rest of album — hell yes! Another example where in the album tracks outshine the lead single. And if SM Enterntainment could cram in five to six great songs in this compilation, I can’t wait to see what they have in store when ‘Chapter 2’ comes out in April!

My final rating for SHINee’s 3rd full-length album ‘Chapter 1. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You’: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

Rainbow – ‘Rainbow Syndrome – Part 1’ album review: DSP screws up another comeback

For a long time, Rainbow has been my second favourite K-pop girl group after SNSD. I didn’t care much for their debut single but it was the stellar “A” and “Mach,” both released in 2010, that won me over. I also find the girls very pretty and by the end of 2010, I assumed Rainbow would achieve stellar success in the coming years!

But they didn’t.

Rainbow’s 2011 comeback was disappointing and their company, DSP Media (the same folks behind uber-successful Kara), left them in the lurch for much too long. I felt really sad for the members. The girls never seemed to get a good break — be it in music or even on variety shows.

So when it was announced Rainbow would finally be making a comeback after a span of nearly 1 year and 7 months(!), I was overjoyed, but at the same time, worried. Knowing how often DSP have screwed up in the past, it was a cause for concern.

Rainbow members Syndrome kpop album

Here’s a track-by-track review:

01. “Golden Touch” – Such a straight ’80s-inspired pop song! From the beats, instrumentation and melody, everything about this song reeks 1980s-pop 🙂 (Did Sweetune work on this?). As dated as I may sound, it was quite refreshing to hear a song like this in Korean. All I could imagine were the members of Rainbow with hair-dos a la ’80s Madonna, ha ha! Love it! – 4/5

02. “두 눈을 감고 (Close Your Eyes)” – I wasn’t expecting a ballad this early in the tracklist, but here you go. Although the tempo feels a bit run-of-the-mill, I still found myself listening to it quite a bit. It may feel like a standard girly K-pop ballad, but track 2 raised my hopes up for the rest of the album. – 3/5

03. “Tell Me, Tell Me” – The much anticipated comeback single:

*Sigh* I’ll just say it. This song is just disappointing. My earlier worry about DSP screwing up have been proven right. “Tell Me, Tell Me” would have worked as a single… back in 2009-10 when a girl group debuted as a rookie! This is not a song worthy of a group like Rainbow and that too after making fans wait 1 year & 7 months for a comeback! It’s bland, uninspired, and choc-full of mediocrity. From the girl’s styling, to the music video’s set, and even the choreography.

Rainbow Tell Me Tell Me dance outfits mv screencap
Was DSP attempting a “Gee” for Rainbow?

Jaekyung – one of the hottest girls in K-pop – has in fact gotten gotten the worst hair treatment among the members in this MV. You would think with all the money DSP earns from Kara, they would invest in better talent to make their other artists look good. The outfits are plain, and I’m not sure Rainbow can pull off the “cute” concept at this stage of their lives. Jisook, Yoon Hye and the like, yes, but all of them as a group – no. Rainbow should have stuck with the mature concepts and kept “cute” for Rainbow Pixie – their sub-unit.

Anyway, I digress. To sum it up, “Tell Me, Tell Me” is a very forgettable track. – 2/5

04. “Cosmic Girl” – It’s not often I have listened to a K-pop comeback album and found another track better suited for a single release than the one that eventually did. This is one such track. Easily my pick for the “best song” on this album! Uptempo, funky, great chorus and a very good track in every sense. – 4/5

05. “나만 아는 너는 절대 모를 이야기” – Translated to “The Story Only I Know You Will Never Know,” this album-filler keeps the tempo going. Very reminiscent of a typical IU song, this isn’t a bad album-filler though. – 3/5

06. “In Love” – The final track is a sweet, saccharine finish to what has been a fairly uptempo album. It isn’t until this song you get to hear some of the girls hit the high notes, which was sorely missing for much of the album. – 3.5/5

Rainbow Tell Me Tell Me Syndrome members k-popIt’s very rare I have liked the album tracks on a K-pop album more than the lead single, but this is unfortunately the case with ‘Syndrome – Part 1’. I scored every track higher than “Tell Me, Tell Me” because it really is the most boring song on the tracklist. Even as I was wrapping up this review, I kept replaying every track except “Tell Me, Tell Me.”

I know there’s a second part to ‘Syndrome’ coming and I have a hunch we may see an edgier concept for the next release. But why after such a long hiatus DSP thought “Tell Me, Tell Me” would work is beyond me. In my opinion, it only lessens Rainbow’s image on the K-pop scene. They had something going for them and now the girls are neither here, nor there. Sure, I loved their cutesy Japanese single “Candy Girls” — but at least that was a catchy song with some cute dance moves. “Tell Me, Tell Me” has nothing special going for it.

This isn’t the first time DSP messed up a comeback. After the stellar “Step,” Kara took a mis-step with “Pandora,” which wasn’t the girl group’s finest. And now, same is the case with Rainbow. I haven’t heard a great Korean single from Rainbow since “Mach,” and I can’t understand why it’s so hard for DSP to get it right.

Rainbow had as much a chance to be the next big K-pop girl group. Their name is synonymous, the girls are pretty, they have a sexy member, a cute member, a funny member, good-at-acting member, and everything else Koreans can get into. From strong vocals to rapping, I see nothing Rainbow lacks as a girl group. All that is lacking is DSP’s  management of the group.

If Rainbow continues to flounder, it will all be DSP Media’s fault. I really hope ‘Syndrome – Part 2’ has a stellar single to raise the roof – because it’s what the girls need, badly! Rainbow’s “Gee” should have come by now. So whatever DSP has planned for Rainbow’s next comeback, they better make it fast. Rainbow has wasted enough time out of the limelight, and this comeback isn’t going to help win them many new fans.

My final rating for Rainbow – ‘Syndrome – Part 1’ is:

Rainbow Tell Me Tell Me Jisook kpop
A better album than a weak lead single
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