This is Girls’ Generation’s (or SNSD, as I’ll be referring to them for the rest of this review) fourth full-length studio album. It is also the group’s first Korean release since late 2010’s Hoot. It was released on October 19, 2011 and sold 227,994 copies within 12 days of its release (good job, girls!).
I want to say that I like this cover, but it seems to me like it has a little too much going on. It’s pretty and the girls look wonderful, but I would have liked something a bit more simple. (It’s also reminiscent of the Genie covers, which is interesting and weird at the same time.)
I knew as soon as I heard The Boys that Girls’ Generation had another hit on their hands. In an interesting development slightly reminiscent of SHINee’s LUCIFER, the song begins with an ambient harmony section and then gives way to a forceful beat and skritching synths. This track was produced by Teddy Riley, whose diverse if somewhat perplexing resume (Michael Jackson and Rania? Sure, if you say so) explains the slick production. In terms of the girls’ performances, I was pretty pleased. True to form, all of the best singers sound great – including Seohyun, damn girl – and those who normally don’t get many solos, like Hyoyeon and Sooyoung, get a slightly less pathetic number of lines, although none of them are sung. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still not nearly enough. I think the fact that the chorus is essentially a big rap might turn some people off, and I admit that it takes some warming up to, but I still find myself singing along. The bridge is also pretty amazing as well. That harmony between Jessica and Taeyeon is to die for. Although I can’t agree with this song being placed right at the beginning of the album, I really love this song and think it contributes nicely to SNSD’s large repertoire of finely crafted pop tunes.
Telepathy (텔레파시) is pure pop in a big way. With sparkly synthesizers and a danceable beat, this is what most SNSD sounds like to me. That said, it’s pretty good, but nothing spectacular. All of the girls sound nice and I enjoyed the sunny melody, but like I said, there’s nothing super noteworthy about this song. But I suspect that most fans of SNSD will really like it because it’s pretty much what they’ve been doing for their entire career.
I pretty much feel the same way about Say yes, although I find this one a bit more tolerable. Although it is pure sugary K-Pop in the most typical way, I found the chorus really cute with the “eh eh” in the background and generally speaking, the girls’ voices sound nice. But yet again, Jessica and Taeyeon dominate the number by default. I mean, as far as maintaining the status quo, this song does just fine.
Trick kicks it up a notch with a sexy, mysterious electro instrumental and synthesized vocals. I like this song because it takes a more mature approach than the previous two tracks. The synths and general fast-paced tempo of the song make it a very club-esque fair, and I always love it when SNSD go down that route. I also love the winding melody of the verse that adds to the sultry sound. Overall, I just really like this song.
How Great Is Your Love (봄날) (Bomnal; Spring Day) is the designated pop ballad of the album (I believe it’s been used for promotions once or twice), and as such it certainly serves its purpose. I will hesitate to call this song boring or typical because although it definitely is not groundbreaking, it has a genuinely lovely melody and the vocals are quite beautiful. I don’t have much to say about this song other than, although it’s nice, it’s not the best SNSD ballad I’ve ever heard.
I am extremely on the fence about My J. My first thoughts were, “My God, they sound like little girls! And this sounds like a kid’s song! What on earth is going on!” And yeah, I don’t think those thoughts have changed. But I think my view of the song has changed, every so slightly. Although it does sound somewhat cutesy and infantile, in all likelihood it was intentional and if so, it works. I mean, who am I to say that a song that’s unabashedly pop is no good? This song is cute and who can fault them for doing what they do best? Not me. I can’t say this is my favorite song but hey, who am I to judge?
On the other hand, I really love OSCAR. Just about everything about it, too – from the sexy synth line to the sultry vocals and the fierce chorus, it’s just a good song. If you couldn’t already tell, I love openly sexy songs like this. So sue me. Oh, and I think the bridge is really cool, with Taeyeon wailing like she always does and then the somewhat hushed quasi-rap. But notice how I said I love just about everything about this song. The lyrics are a little silly (“It’s twinkle twinkle up in the sky / My O-S-C-A-R / The superstar you’ve been waiting for”). Now, obviously I’m not going to hold all songs to the same standard. If this were a ballad, I’d be a lot more harsh with those asinine lyrics, but since this is clearly meant to be a dancing song, it’s much easier to dismiss. Long story short, I love this fierce song and the girls can get it. Werk!
Top Secret has a fun swing style that I also like. The funky guitars and brass instruments blend nicely with the girls’ vocals and it’s just an enjoyable song. I especially like the little rap break featuring (I’m GUESSING here, please don’t get on me if I’m wrong) Hyoyeon and Sunny. This is unlike any other track I’ve heard SNSD sing and I guess that’s why I enjoy it so much.
SNSD singing a song called Lazy Girl? Oh please. Those girls are constantly off doing something, promoting for something, posing and smiling for some picture. It’s kind of awesomely ironic to hear them sing a song about being lazy, even if the song doesn’t exactly sound like laziness. I actually like this song because the melody is cute and it sounds good coming right off of Top Secret. Even the Engrish at the end (“I’m lazy girl, so lazy girl”) sounds endearing.
Another song I really like is Sunflower (제자리걸음) (Jejarigeoreum; Walking in Place). I know I said early that How Great Is Your Love was the designated ballad of the album, and that’s still true, but I enjoy this one a lot more because it’s more peaceful and all-around nicer to hear. The vocals sound very effortless, which makes the whole thing sound so pristine. This is just a really beautiful ballad, probably one of my favorites I’ve heard from SNSD.
Vitamin is another one of those cutesy songs I can’t figure out how I feel about. I mean, on one hand, it’s super cute and infectious and how can I resist? On the other hand, it feels like I’ve heard it all before, probably because I have. In the end, I’m just going to embrace this song and all other songs like it because this is what I signed on for when I decided to listen to this album and I’m in no position to complain. And besides, it’s cute.
As soon as I heard the original Japanese version of Mr. Taxi, I knew there would be a Korean version. Because it’s that catchy. And here we have Mr. Taxi (Korean Ver.). I mean, there’s not much to say about this song other than that I love it about as much as I loved the original because it’s more or less the same. The hook is one of the catchiest I’ve heard this year and who doesn’t like a catchy, easy-to-sing chorus? I’m glad SNSD came up with a version of this song that their Korean fans can understand.
Speaking of foreign language versions of songs, there’s The Boys (English Ver.). As far as English translations of Korean pop songs go, this is pretty good. The lyrics all sound like stuff I’d hear on Top 40 radio here in the States and in that sense, I see nothing wrong. Given that SNSD must have been given only a few months to be able to speak English comprehensibly, I’d say their pronunciation is pretty solid as well. I was able to understand like 98% of what the girls were singing and those are great odds. I’m pleased with this rendition and I hope it takes them far.
Summary: I have a love/hate relationship with SNSD, I feel at times. I absolutely love their title tracks because, by and large, they’re some of the best styled, best produced pieces of music in K-Pop. Their album tracks, though? Not so much. As with most of their albums, this fourth studio effort contains moments of excellence separated by a whole lot of filler, and I’m not entirely okay with that. Part of me wishes that SM would use half of the energy and creativity they put into coming up with SNSD’s title tracks and put it into their album tracks as well; and then there’s a part of me that tells me to shut up and enjoy their music for what it is. So now I’m doing both. Do I love every one of these songs because they’re all masterpieces? No, not by a long shot. But I do appreciate them for what they’re meant to do, and I can rest assured in the fact that SNSD are still making music that makes them and their fans happy.
Album Grade: B-
The Boys | OSCAR | Trick | Top Secret | Sunflower (제자리걸음)