Album Review: Jolin Tsai – “MUSE”

This is Jolin Tsai’s twelfth studio album. It was released on September 14, 2012.

I have to say I really like the styling for this album jacket. The variety of patterns, colors and textures  reflect the album’s eclecticness nicely. (I also like this cover more than the other one, in which Jolin looks like a creepy robot.)

~

Love will be your muse.
I was absolutely blown away the first time I heard 大藝術家 (Dà yìshùjiā; The Great Artist), the lead single from this album, and I’m still impressed by it even though I’ve listened to it many times since then. There are lots of things that make this song great, but the thing that struck me first was the melody, which kept me guessing throughout the song, especially the verse. Jolin’s vocal performance is also really confident and doesn’t feel too timid or too bold (a great balance). And finally, the instrumental is absolutely awesome – strong synths, booming bass and lots of electric guitar underlining it all. Putting all of these elements together, we get a really strong single. Even though it came out toward the end of summer I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it was one of the best pop songs of the season.

Dr. Jolin is an effervescent pop affair with sweetness to spare. Although I wouldn’t exactly call this song “cute” by normal standards, it is bubbly and fun in a very charming way. It’s not as catchy as the song that comes before it (that’d be quite a feat) but there are lots of things I like about it, like the unusual plunking bass in the pre-chorus and that catchy “I’ll give you love” part in the chorus. Jolin’s vocals are a bit on the tamer side but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, I think this is a really nice song and I still feel excited.

I’m gonna preface the next paragraph by saying that I absolutely love 迷幻 (Mí huàn; Fantasy). Taking us from bubbly Eurodance to hypnotic electro-house, this song was a nice change in direction and I really enjoy the sparseness of the track in juxtaposition to Jolin’s sweet vocal. It’s slightly on the shorter side, which made me feel a bit disappointed, but I was still impressed by the track at the length it is. There’s only one thing I’d change about this song, and that’s the abrupt transition between the bridge and the final chorus. Other than that, though, I thought this song was magnificent and it’s probably my favorite so far.

I was a little surprised when I read the translated title of 十三號星期舞 (Shísān hào xīngqí wŭ; Friday the Thirteenth) because it doesn’t sound like a “Friday the Thirteenth” kind of song. At first listen I enjoyed Jolin’s vocal and the contrast between the sunny melody and the more frenetic instrumental break between chorus and verse. This one’s even shorter than 迷幻, though, and I felt they could have done a lot more with this one, so I would’ve liked the ending to be a bit less abrupt.

Beast is almost a full minute shorter than its predecessor, but it packs quite the punch. The dark synth instrumental and Jolin’s breathy, masked vocal really help to create an air of mystery and ominousness on this track. It kind of reminds me of “Dangerous” from BoA’s HURRICANE VENUS album, which I also really liked.

Ready for something REALLY different? 柵欄間隙偷窺你 (Shānlán jiànxì tōukuī nĭ; Peeking at You from Behind the Fence) brings us swing piano and full band, something we haven’t heard at all on the album so far, and boy is it fun. Aside from the instrumental which is obviously a completely different style from the electro-tinged pop we’ve been hearing, Jolin does this fun swung thing to her syllables that gives the song a mischievous feel, which is fitting when you think about the title. I thought this song was perfect for its length and made a great midway point between the two main sections of the album (more on that later).

彩色照片 (Căisè zhàopiàn; Color Photos) brings us to the “ballad section” of the album. Although this song isn’t super boring or anything, I didn’t find much that was special in the melody or instrumental, and Jolin’s vocal is understated almost to the point of being average. I did, however, really enjoy the short verse at the very end and wish they could have incorporated that melody elsewhere in the song as well. Not exactly my favorite ballad, but pretty harmless and a nice segue into the latter half of the album.

I found myself liking 詩人漫步 (Shīrén mànbù; The Wandering Poet) a lot more. The song starts very quiet, with just Jolin and lone piano, but blossoms in subsequent verses to a full acoustic band arrangement, even incorporating some accordion, snare drum and other unusual instruments. Though this song clearly has a lot more going on, it never sounds overwrought or busy. It sounds a bit haphazard at points, what with the changing melody, but I think that also kept it interesting.

有人 (Yǒurén; Someone) is a bit of an anomaly at this stage in the album but it’s a refreshing divergence. The ambience of this track help it break from the ballad streak (which was really only two songs anyway) without sounding totally out of place. Plus I liked the pleasant English phrases in the lyrics. This song isn’t a standout track, but it isn’t filler either – it hangs nicely between the two.

I have to give props to the beauty in 馬賽克 (Măsàikè; Mosaic). A peaceful piano line opens the song and continues throughout, complimenting Jolin’s voice nicely. The melody in the chorus really keeps this song away from being boring and helped me enjoy it a lot. Also, at 4 minutes long, it’s kind of the perfect length, which is a great strength for a ballad to have. As we wind down to the end of the album, proportions are much appreciated.

The closing track of the album,  (Wǒ; I) wraps the whole thing up with simple strings and peaceful vocals. Though it keeps some of the typical ‘ballad’ bells and whistles (strings, backing vocals), it feels less complex than say, 詩人漫步, which makes it nice for the very end of the tracklisting. It’s also about the same length as the song that directly precedes it, which means it’s not too drawn out. Overall, I’m pretty happy with this track as a closer, but I wouldn’t say the same for the tracklisting as a whole.

Summary: I first heard Jolin Tsai on her 2009 mega huge hit “Butterfly,” which I loved. I never got around to reviewing her, though, because I found her album frustratingly lacking cohesiveness. But as luck would have it, this album is a totally different story. There are some really strong tracks on here, and though they span many genres (the fierce power-pop of 大藝術家, the sparse electro of 迷幻, the unlikely swing of 柵欄間隙偷窺你 ), none feels terribly out of place. In fact, even the more ordinary songs are saved by their unusual but fascinating melodies. I would argue that the album is weakest from a structural standpoint; the blocking of the album’s tracks (upbeat songs in the first half, ballads in the second) are its biggest flaw and could definitely have been handled with more finesse. That aside, though, this is a collection of wonderful tracks, and it deserves all the praise it gets.

Album Grade: A
Recommended Tracks:
大藝術家 | 詩人漫步 | 迷幻 | 馬賽克 | Dr. Jolin

6 thoughts on “Album Review: Jolin Tsai – “MUSE”

  1. I haven’t listened to Jolin Tsai in 2 years O__O I think after your review, I’d better take a look at what she’s doing these days.

  2. i think you are missing a big point of this album. one of the flaws you pointed out was the track listing, but it was perfectly designed this way to give the listener a feeling from upbeat pop to deep self reflection. If you look into the lyrics and understand the meanings, you would understand why they picked the tracklist this way. the last song “I” is Jolin’s self reflection on her career. she sings about her insecurities when she is off the stage. strong contrast to the opening song “the Great Artist” which highlights confidence.

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