2. HURRICANE VENUS
4. 옆 사람 (Stand By)
5. M.E.P. (My Electric Piano)
6. Let Me
7. 한별 (Implode)
9. 하루하루 (Ordinary Day)
10. Don’t Know What To Say
11. 로망스 (Romance)
This is BoA’s sixth studio album and long-awaited comeback to the Korean music scene after a five year absence (mostly doing things in Japan and a foray into the U.S.). The album was released on August 5, 2010.
I love the new, high-fashion, edgy BoA. She’s back!
As far as opening tracks go, GAME is kind of a disappointment, but then again it isn’t. Here, we have an interesting stylistic mix: a bit of electro, some jazzy elements (electric guitar, brass instruments) and BoA’s curiously Auto-Tuned vocals. It’s certainly not boring, and BoA sounds pretty confident on her vocal parts. However, the song’s major drawback is its lack of a hook (or at least a strong one), which means it’s not as catchy as it could be. This is especially disappointing because SM usually gives their artists really excellent opening tracks. It’s sort of a shame. Not a terrible track, but I was hoping for something more.
HURRICANE VENUS makes up for anything and everything GAME lacked. With a strong vocal performance, tremendous production values and a chorus that really does sound like a hurricane, this song is the total package. Although the random English line (you know the one – “electronic manic supersonic bionic energy“) is kind of silly when you really think about it, in the context of this heavily dance-influenced song, it doesn’t detract from the overall sound at all. I could basically write a novel on why this song is great, but I’ll conclude by saying that I can scarcely think of a K-Pop song catchier than this from the year 2010. And if there is one, it’s probably from SM anyway.
Keeping with the trend of hard dance tracks, Dangerous is shamelessly sexy and seriously fierce. Despite being less than 3 minutes long, this song manages to pack in a lot of sound, most notably its thumping beat and dark stuttering synth line. BoA’s vocals are a bit doctored, but nothing too drastic considering the tone of the song. The only real negative to this song is probably its repetitiveness, but since it’s on the shorter side, this is easier to forgive.
I can’t say I agree with 옆사람 (Stand By) being placed right after Dangerous. I think I understand what they were trying to do, but the abrupt switch from electronic dance to sentimental ballad doesn’t contribute much to the overall flow. Moving on from that, however, I will admit that this song has grown on me considerably since I first heard it. My initial impression, based on the synthesized keyboard of the first few seconds, was that this was a typical fluff ballad with not much else to offer. While that assumption was partially true – this is, indeed, a fluffy ballad – I do think BoA’s vocal performance balances out the cheesiness of the instrumentation. I normally wouldn’t be into this type of ballad, which is pretty typical K-Pop fare, but BoA made me like it.
I am a total sucker for M.E.P (My Electronic Piano). Seriously guys, I think this song is just the cutest thing and it makes me feel good to listen to it. It’s technically more uptempo compared to 옆 사람 (Stand By), but it’s not an all-out dance track. Instead, with some fanciful Owl City-style twinkles and BoA’s sugary vocals, the song leans more toward electronic pop. Whenever I listen to this song, I can’t get “I think you’re still in love with me” out of my head. Honestly, I think this is a really sweet song and I strongly recommend it.
Let Me is another song in the club dance style we’ve heard in GAME and Dangerous. Although this song has some catchy elements – the synth, the wordy verse, and parts of the chorus – on the whole, I felt it was lacking. There’s not much here but a bouncing club beat. And it’s not even that short (3 and a half minutes).
It’s a little hard for me to review 한별 (Implode) because I feel pretty strongly about it. Allow me to try, though. Implode is a 6 1/2 minute acoustic ballad, which may scare some people off, but hear me out. I think this song is absolutely beautiful for a number of reasons, one being the lyrics, which are heartbreaking (“‘Don’t leave me’/ Why were those words / So hard to say back then?“). BoA’s vocals are bare-bones and unembellished, which is actually a good thing for the simplicity of this song. But probably may favorite thing about Implode is the way it builds up. From verse to verse, more is added to the instrumentation, until they reach the stunning bridge where BoA’s voice and the synthetic background vocals reach an emotional apex. Basically, rather than praising this song to high heaven, I’ll just leave it at this by saying that I absolutely recommend this song with all my heart.
Adrenaline brings us back to upbeat dance as seems to be the theme of this album. Although it doesn’t touch on the level of excitement of HURRICANE VENUS, it’s much catchier and less obnoxious than Let Me. It’s also shorter, which means less time to get bored with it.
Our next song, 하루하루 (Ordinary Day), is a foray into simple R&B, which, surprisingly enough, hasn’t been done on this album yet. Because of this, it’s something of a breath of fresh air from the synthpop numbers and club bangers. This song really lives up to its title because it’s pretty laid-back, but it never dips into mundane territory. It’s a bit on the long side – 4 minutes 46 seconds – but it’s simple and catchy enough to justify its presence on the tracklist.
Don’t Know What To Say is the third ballad so far, but it’s not like the first two at all. Here, we have BoA against a lone piano, a strikingly minimalist setup that works just as well as its decked-out counterparts. It may seem a little odd that, on an album whose two other ballads literally pull out all the stops, a ballad where harmonies don’t even come in for a full minute could feel just as big, but the bare-bones arrangement has a genuine quality, an captivating honesty. Knowing that BoA probably nailed this track in one take is another thing that makes it really awesome. I’m not normally one to give this kind of praise, but as far as ballads go on this album, BoA’s 3 for 3, and that’s no small feat.
I find it a bit strange that a ballad was chosen to cap off the album – the same album that started with GAME, a funky synth-jazz number. But I suppose it does make sense on lyrical, narrative level. If GAME was BoA meeting with a potential suitor – the chase, if you will – 로망스 (Romance) is the full-fledged, accepting love that’s formed between them (“I wanna love you just the way you are“). In terms of the actual song, though, a 5-minute jazz ballad wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it’s mellow and nice, if a bit boring. Perhaps it’s an unconventional closing track, but it makes for relaxed listening anyway.
Summary: When BoA (or rather, her representation, the juggernaut talent agency SM Entertainment) announced her return to Korea after a felt-like-forever absence, expectations were high. She had, after all, been the reigning teenage queen of K-Pop for several years, and her fans were expecting no less than a full-fledged pickup from where she left off. HURRICANE VENUS accomplishes this in a roundabout way. Rather than asserting a cohesive artistic identity (which K-Pop artists seldom do anyway), the album comes off as a mixtape, a compilation of great songs from various genres. One wonders if this is SM’s way of saying, “Look at all the things she can still do! It’s like she never left! She’s still got it!” It’d be easy to call the album a scatterbrained, disorganized effort if the bast majority of the songs on it didn’t work so damn well. In this sense it’s typical SM, who won’t settle for anything less than the best for their artists. In the same vein, the album is quintessential K-Pop – a smattering of contemporary songs just daring enough to engage, but still comfortable and safe. But man, is it good.
Album Grade: A+
HURRICANE VENUS | M.E.P. (My Electric Piano) | 한별 (Implode) | Don’t Know What To Say