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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)

Dalmatian – ‘State of Emergency’ album review: A makeover in every sense

Another group I never thought I’d write about. When Dalmatian debuted, it was hard to take a boyband named after a cute breed of dogs seriously. Their songs didn’t do it for me either. “Round 1,” “Lover Cop” and “That Man Opposed” were not to my liking at all. In fact the only song I ever liked by them was the album track “Lost in Love“. But the one thing I did appreciate about the group was the members worked on many of the songs themselves, a rarity in K-pop.

But now, like a lot of their rookie peers, Dalmatian have gone though some changes. From an original line-up of six members, they’re now down to five. Member Day-Day left, new member Simon comes in, and brings with him perfect English skills. (Something which shines on this album)

Dalmatian State of Emergency members new lineup
Dalmatian, the current line-up

So why am I writing about a group I never cared for before? Because their comeback song is probably their best song to date!

Dalmatian State of Emergency album cover
In fact I gave the whole album a listen and felt the need to give the album some attention

Here’s a track-by-track review:

1. “E.R” – The lead single:

As soon as I heard this song, I couldn’t help but compare it to B2ST’s “Fiction”. The pacing, song structure and the melody all seemed similar, albeit with a few keys off. Still, I won’t call “E.R” a carbon copy of “Fiction” – because this song manages to sound so good on its own. It was only a few days back INFINITE came out with out with “The Chaser” and as an Inspirit, I find myself listening to “E.R” a lot more! – 4.5/5

The MV does everything to re-introduce Dalmatian to the world. Gone are the silly themes, aegyo-filled actions – this ‘new’ Dalmatian look serious and hard edged. They look pretty cool in fact, enough to separate them from the standard look of every other K-pop boy band. And although the choreography isn’t great, the MV still serves its purpose well.

2. “차 안에서 (Drive)” –  The second track keeps the pace on a high, but with a smoother jam. The beats are really nice, vocals even nicer and its yet another good track. There are lot of lines sung in English, and with Simon on board, it just sounds so much better when the accent and pronunciation is done right. –   4/5

3. “Hurt Me” – It was by this point I realized this was a good mini-album. The third track sounds like a boyband song from the late ’90s. The beats and the keyboard hook are reminiscent of teen-pop music of that era. Not really a ballad, but the tempo is a notch lower on this one. – 3/5

4. “Still By Ur Side” – Rounding up the songs on ‘State of Emergency,’ this is tookeeps the ‘feel’ consistent. Consider me impressed, I never expected a consistent tracklist like this. – 3/5

5. “E.R” (Instrumental) – I know it’s an instrumental, but I really enjoy listening to this a lot (but I’m not going to give it a rating though)

Dalmatian E.R MV screencap members
Good job guys

When your album only consists of 5 tracks (4 proper songs) and each one is good, if not great, then you know you have a good release in hand. Sure it’s only their second mini-album, but ‘State of Emergency’ is in my opinion Dalmatian’s best release to date. “E.R” is great single and I hope the boys get a taste of success this time around.

With INFINITE promoting “The Chaser,” I doubt Dalmatian have a shot at winning an award. But even if they don’t, I hope Dalmatian at least get taken seriously as a musical act. I’m sure it wouldn’t mean a lot more to the members given its been over one-and-half years since they debuted, and despite three singles, the group have yet to make much of an impact on the K-pop charts.

With a whole new image, a great new song, Dalmation shows it’s never too late to go in for a makeover. U-KISS did it last year and look at where they are now. I consider these changes as a sign of maturity in K-pop. When the ‘big 3’ entertainment companies went with a certain formula, every other idol wannabe went with the tried-and-tested to emulate the initial success K-pop saw. But the newbie agencies seem to have woken up to the fact the market is saturated with the same image and sound, and that if you want to set yourself apart from the rest, you best do something different. The fact that the album cover only shows ‘DMTN,’ you know whoever in charge at Monkey Funch Entertainment wanted people to forget the white suits with black spots. It’s a move I can commend.

My final rating for Dalmatian’s 2nd mini-album ‘State of Emergency’: 3.5 out of 5 (Pretty Good)

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