Album review #1: “Lucifer” – SHINee

About time I got around to doing this.

As a whole, the album didn’t turn out to be as mindblowingly awesome as I had anticipated, but K-pop is 90% hype, 10% substance anyway, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. However, it’s a strong second entry for this steadily maturing idol group, and signs of significant growth and development are evident in this album. But if that doesn’t convince you, then maybe this will: If anything, Lucifer is worth a listen for one thing: TAEMIN’S VOICE.

Edit: Looking for my review on “Hello”? Click HERE.


Part 1. CONCEPT.

Very rarely does SHINee ever look atrocious (the one notable exception being their Juliette days *shudder*), and as outrageous and weird as their styling is this time around, I really like it. Not because of its sex appeal, but because of its cleverness. I suppose its lack of sex appeal is what makes it clever. Oho, see what I did thar?

The whole “beast idol” concept has hung around K-pop boybands for the last half year or so, many thanks to 2PM’s “Heartbeat” promos and gratuitous shirt-ripping, which launched them into popularity (moreso due to the latter than the former, perhaps?) and prompted stylists from other companies to style (or in Beast’s case, name) their boybands in a similar fashion. It was inevitable that SHINee would, in some way, aim for a more “grown up” image for their second album. As charming as the ‘yay we’re practically still in high school’ image is, it doesn’t really work when your youngest member is already 18.

The ‘beast’ image, then, would be an obvious path to take for their next concept, but being the “contemporary band” that they are, they couldn’t just stop there. That’s when it’s handy to have Ha Sang Baek around, I suppose.

There’s a fine line between creative and tacky, and the Lucifer concept is doing quite the fancy-footed tightrope act on it. The concept is beastly, but tastefully and artfully so, rather than riding purely on the hormones of teenage fangirls. The teaser pics released prior to the album were rather offputting, but after seeing the CD liner pics in full, as well as their performance styling, I’d have to say that they pulled off the “manly” image without being trashy or boring.

My only other complaint is with Minho’s hair. The other members have hairstyles that can be easily styled to look either amazing…

…or just kind of “ehh”.

But there is next to nothing you can do with Minho’s buzzcut. I don’t know why everyone’s raving over it because it’s just so boring and he looks like he’s eight years older than he actually is and…why? TT_TT

It makes me curious as to what their repackage album concept will be, especially considering the path that Super Junior took with their 4th album promos. If the creative staff have half a brain, they wouldn’t revert SHINee back to their dandy, 1st album concepts because that’s just cheap. Something clean-cut, conservative, classy, and mature? Blazers and ties and loafers? Hm, Patricia likes.

Part 2. “LUCIFER” MV.

I don’t know what it is about SM and putting fancy cars in music videos – they did it in DBSK’s “Purple Line” and “Wrong Number” vids and now “Lucifer.” The cars didn’t serve much purpose in any of the above videos. Maybe they’re supposed to add “lucksoolee.”

Pink on Wednesdays, biatch.

There were two members who really stood out in this particular MV: Onew and Taemin. I’m tempted to add Key to the list as well, but that boy always works the camera like the mofo that he is, and he’s done more dynamic performances in previous MVs. Don’t worry Key, you were still perfectly fab.

Taemin has undergone some interesting changes since “Ring Ding Dong,” and I don’t just mean the hair. “Ring Ding Dong” marked the first time SHINee tried out any kind of ‘mature’ concept and, as expected, Taemin looked perfectly awkward in it aside from his dancing. With “Lucifer,” however, Taemin is no longer afforded the luxury and therefore must learn – gasp! – how to be charismatic. And he done good.

I don’t believe that I’ve hung around the SHINee fandom enough to call myself an expert on the members’ personalities, but I’ve gotten the impression from Taemin that he’s rather uncomfortable being “cute” because that’s just not who he is. He just happens to fall into that mold by default due to his young age. To be honest, I don’t think Taemin’s ever felt comfortable enough to be himself until “Jo Jo” promotions began. With “Lucifer,” however, you see him fully embrace that kind of charisma and smoothness that you wouldn’t expect from his “innocent” image. His performance didn’t appear forced, like in “Ring Ding Dong.” It looked like…well, it looked like Taemin. I’m telling you, this boy is meant to be sexy, and he has the chops to pull it off. Now we’ll just have to see how far they’ll let him take it.

Onew has developed in a similar manner, except that his growth is more trained than natural, as in Taemin’s case. Like Taemin, we saw Onew forced into the ‘sexy’ role in “Ring Ding Dong,” and it was painfully and giggle-worthily fail. Unlike Taemin, Onew really is the klutzy dork that he is, with the hidden side of romantic charisma that’s unveiled when he sings. In some respects, he’s much like DBSK’s Junsu…except Onew can’t dance, which makes it that much harder for him to pull off any sort of ‘sexy.’ Example: Junsu was able to pull off “Intoxication” without looking like a total dweeb (although I still maintain that it was awkward as haaaale to watch). Now imagine Onew in “Intoxication.” Exactly.

It’s not to say that Onew magically turned into a flaming ball of charisma in “Lucifer,” but there’s a definite improvement to be seen. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but it’s somewhere between the hair, the guyliner, and the fist punch. Regardless, it’s there, and it’s looking better than it did in “Ring Ding Dong.” And that’s good.

Part 3. PERFORMANCE.

It sucks that Minho’s not going to be dancing for another week – not because I think that his absence detracts from the performance quality that much, although I do love the boy to death – but because it makes for the lamest camera shots ever. The MV spent more time focusing on Jonghyun and his cars than the actual choreography, which looks awesome. The parts I’ve seen, that is. But unless we can get a dance version MV or a decent performance recording where the camera isn’t focused on Minho in a chair the whole time, then I can’t make too weighty of a judgment on the choreography.

What I am sure of, however, is that “Lucifer” is one difficult mofo to perform, period, let alone live. Their comeback stage on MuBank last week evidenced this quite well, unfortunately. Jonghyun usually radiates perfection 95% of the time when performing, and he was pitchy all over the place throughout the entire song. Onew fared a little better but he still looked like he was about to die. And who can blame them? The entire chorus sits on a repeated E, which is high enough for Minho and Key, whose ranges are on the lower pitch spectrum, and Taemin, whose voice is still developing. Then on top of that, you’ve got Onew and Jonghyun wailing high As and Bs throughout the verses and ending ad libs. Combine that with the intense choreography, and you’ve got a performance piece that should have all members collapsed on the floor by the end of this four minute aerobic workout of champions.

Which is why I’ve got to give them mad props for stepping it up so much in their MuCore performance the next day, which wasn’t completely flawless, but at least it didn’t look like Jonghyun was going to bust a forehead vein. I wasn’t disappointed in their MuBank performance – it’s hard not to sympathize with them after realizing how physically taxing “Lucifer” actually is. But they somehow mustered up this extra strength from nowhere and pulled off two great performances at MuCore and Inkigayo – surely the fruit of hard work and, to some extent, dissatisfaction with their initial comeback performance. That’s diligence right there.

As for “Up & Down”… meh, it didn’t stick with me when I listened to it in the album, but the performances of it were cute and allowed them to break out of their “beastly” concept for a bit. Now if they’d put Taemin in a beanie for just one of these performances… v_v

Part 4. ALBUM.

1. “Up & Down”

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Not an ideal way to start off the album in my opinion – it doesn’t fit the concept at all and can be kind of irritating at first listen. “Lucifer” probably would have been a better choice as an album opener, but that would’ve been too obvious, wouldn’t it?

The one great thing about having “Up & Down” as an opener, however, is that it features Taemin all over the place, and he is sounding good. I’ll be discussing this further in later tracks, because he’s pretty much everywhere else, too. I’m definitely not complaining.

There are times where I’m in love with Jonghyun’s voice, and there are times where it’s unbearably annoying. It’s probably just a bad combination of digital editing and ‘style,’ but Jonghyun does sound quite throaty and “produced” here. :(

Overall, nothing astounding, but bearable. Very head-sticking – you have been warned.

2. “Lucifer”

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I don’t know why no one likes this song! I guess I have a soft spot for digitized, noisy, 80’s retro throwback music, which probably explains why I liked “Jo Jo” so much. Musically speaking, it’s interestingly structured and features sophisticated backbeating usage. Guess they learned something from producing “Mirotic” two years ago. It’s very Yoo Young-jin-ish, hence all the comparisons to Super Junior’s “Bonamana.” Personally, I find “Lucifer” to be much more interesting and much less ridiculous-sounding than “Bonamana,” but that’s just me. However, Yoo Young-jin has been coming out with pretty similar stuff for the past year and a half. Dude needs a vacation.

And yes, Minho does sing one line in this; it’s at 1:37 if you need a reference point because it doesn’t sound like him at all. His voice doesn’t sound digitized at all either, and he sounds the same when he sings it live. I find this to be a good sign as well as a cause for concern – it’s good because it means that Minho is expanding his range, which means that we’ll probably be able to hear him sing more in the future, but it worries me because Minho has a naturally deep voice – so deep that it doesn’t fit into the typical pop boyband tenor scheme and therefore makes it difficult for him to sing your typical pop pieces. But it’s not to say that he’s a bad singer – his rendition of “Milk Tea” during a Fukuoka fanmeet showed audiences that he has quite a lovely tone – or, at the least, that he can sing. But now that they seem to be pushing his range upward, I’m afraid that he’ll lose that beautiful lower range of his and trade it for a higher range that, honestly, just doesn’t sound as good.

3. “Electric Heart”

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Eh. I’m not feeling this one, although it seems like everyone else is. It features obvious Latin influences, which always seem to be kind of out of place in Asian music (which is why I thought the Korean version of “Hyeya” sounded kinda off compared to the original Spanish “Y Si Ella Fuera”), but I didn’t mind that as much as I did its relatively weak chorus and lack of a real climax. The key points of the song were done in soft rap, and as much as I appreciate Minho’s rapping voice, it sounded unnatural. Overall, the song didn’t seem to have much direction or purpose other than the supposed “sexiness” of Minho’s rapping voice. Meh.

4. “A-Yo”

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I loved this song until I realized that it reminded me of Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”

It’s cute, it’s cheerful, it’s fun, it’s mad catchy, I liked it. Plus, the original English version is just so ridiculous and shallow, it makes the Korean version that much better.

5. 욕 (慾) (Obsession)

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I think this is the only song off the album that I really dislike, primarily because the chorus is just so irritating and the mood of the piece is needlessly epic sounding. I get that the song is about the angst of heartbreak, but for goodness’ sake, I feel like I’m going off to war listening to this. The main problem with this is that the verses are too weak and the chorus is too strong and Jonghyun needs to stop wailing.

6. 화살 (Quasimodo)

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Okay, anyone else think that Onew’s opening ad-lib was Freddie Mercury making a cameo a la “Somebody To Love“?

I always appreciate when SHINee does ballads. Their style is much different from, say, that of DBSK because their vocalists have yet to be as strong and flexible as the DBSK members – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it allows them to keep things simple, and that’s when the true beauty of the piece can be revealed. “Quasimodo” didn’t get to me as much as “Romantic” did on their first album, but Onew sounds absolutely amazing in this, which makes it worth listening in itself.

An extra bonus is that there’s no arbitrarily placed rap break, which means…Minho sings in a ballad?! Yeah, he does, he has like two lines but at least you’re hearing him sing.

Overall, a beautiful piece and probably one of my favorite cuts off the album.

7. 악 (Shout Out)

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Like “Get Down” on their third mini-album, “Shout Out” is basically a three minute long compensation for Minho’s limited singing participation in the album. Which, I mean, isn’t worth complaining about, but at least we all know why it’s there.

And yes, that is Onew with the random moaning in the chorus. Congratulations – now that’s the only thing you’ll pay attention to every time you listen to this song.

I think this is a step up from “Get Down” because there are more (albeit brief) features from Jonghyun, Onew, and Taemin – thankfully more of the latter two than the former. Not that I don’t like Jonghyun, but you just hear so much of him everywhere else. And plus, Onew and Taemin’s lines at 1:15 are just so cool-sounding.

Good pump-up piece before a sports match or before you go bear hunting. Click, finish, done.

8. WOWOWOW

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Recently, there’s just been a huge uprising of K-pop fans who hate autotune. Doesn’t matter the context, the usage, the artist, whatever. It’s just become a popular belief that autotune = EVIL. I think it’s due to an increased amount of “music snobbishness” in K-pop…which, to be honest, doesn’t have much place in K-pop, period.

I think there’s a time and a place for autotune, and when used correctly, it can be quite effective and fun to listen to. DBSK’s “Crazy Love” was such an example. My basic rule of thumb is: if autotune is being used solely to cover up bad vocals, then no.

“WOWOWOW,” fortunately, featured a fairly judicious use of autotune. It’s pretty much just fun fluff, much like “Crazy Love.” It reminds me of a song from the Broadway adaptation of Tarzan. Cookies for whoever guesses which one correctly. Here’s a hint: Pops Concert 2007.

9. “Your Name

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Another favorite off the album. It’s nice and chill and has vibes from DBSK’s “낙원 (Paradise).” It’s another American tune mixed with Korean lyrics, and Onew didn’t do a bad job on his first songwriting venture. This song definitely caught my ear when the minute-long album preview was released, and I’m not disappointed at all. Definitely a great summertime tune. :)

10. “Life”

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Eh. It’s not as strong as “Quasimodo” or “Your Name,” but it’s not bad. It sounds like a less epic version of “노을…바라보다 (Picture of You)” from…you guessed it: DBSK’s 4th album. Taemin is pretty noticeable in this one, so I think I’ll take some time to talk about Taemin.

I’ve previously regarded Taemin as the second weakest singer in SHINee – and no duh; he debuted right around puberty. Which, you know, was fine because he was the lead dancer and all and since when do dancers need to know how to sing? Even if they are in an idol singing group… >_>

Thankfully, management realized this right when Taemin’s voice change ended, and started featuring him more beginning in “Ring Ding Dong” and other tracks on their third minialbum. Now that Lucifer is out, it looks like Taemin has finally “grown into” his voice and boy does he sound fantastic. They’re still giving him the easy lines to let him test out the waters, but judging from what he’s done with those little lines, you can tell that there’s quite a bit of potential there, now that he’s got his ‘big boy voice’ all in gear. I often say that I’m excited to see where SHINee will be in the next three years – and I’m particularly excited to see Taemin grow. As aforementioned, I think he’s been confined in the “little boy” role for much too long, and now that he’s shed that image, I’m curious to see exactly how far he’ll take this newly developed smexy mature side of him.

11. “Ready Or Not

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Yet another song that caught my attention when I listened to the album preview. It sounds like a Lady Gaga piece, no lie. The verses are a bit eccentric sounding, but once you hit the bridge and chorus, it gets good. Not sure what’s with SM lately and their habit of throwing in the part-rapped-part-spoken-part-sung lines in songs, like in f(x)’s “Nu ABO,”  SNSD’s “Run Devil Run,” and even a bit in “Lucifer,” but I kind of like it.

But yeah. It sounds like something Lady Gaga would do. That could be a good or bad thing, take your pick.

12. “Love Pain”

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An R&B uptempo ballad that reminds me slightly of “Y.O.U.” from their 3rd minialbum, although I think that “Y.O.U.” was better than “Love Pain”. Meh. I’m mostly ambivalent about this one; it’s nothing special and the key change was pretty cheesy, but unlike everyone else on the planet, I wasn’t really a big fan of “Y.O.U.”, so someone’s bound to enjoy this one.

13. “사.게.후 (Love Still Goes On)”

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Billed as the sequel of “Love Should Go On” from SHINee’s 1st album (which was a pretty solid track in it of itself), this is a good mix of solid vocals and tight rap. I’m tempted to call this my favorite track off the album because it showcases all the members’ skills so well – Jonghyun and Onew pull off their chorus and adlib vocals without going overboard, and Minho and Key’s rap bits are at their best, methinks. I wouldn’t necessarily have picked this for the closing track of the album (probably wouldn’t have opted to switch this one with “Love Pain”) but it’s good enough to end the album off on a positive note.

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Let’s face it: most K-pop music kind of sucks and most of us are in it because of the people who sing it. Such is the case with SHINee’s Lucifer. The music in it isn’t so bad that only hardcore fans will enjoy the album – because there is definitely worse out there in the world of K-pop. My reaction to most of the tracks was just a quiet “meh” – far too much American influence, not enough creativity. I get the feeling that the mediocrity of some of the tracks might be reduced if they were performed live. 1st Asia Tour in 2011? Please?

But despite all this, I find myself listening to this album constantly – and I suppose this could be partially attributed to my fangirlism, but I find that I’m listening to this album because the improvement in the members’ skills these past few months is considerable. I’m especially impressed with Onew and Jonghyun’s participation as lyricists so early in the game – the DBSK members didn’t really start composing and writing lyrics until their third album. SHINee is growing into artists faster than their sunbaes, and that’s an exciting thought.

So while I can’t bring myself to rate this album any higher than a 3.5 out of 5, I think it’s fair to say that this album is worth a listen not necessarily because it features brilliantly composed music, but because it serves as a major milestone in SHINee’s work as artists. These guys started out way ahead of their sunbaes even from their debut, and now, two years into their career, they’re further ahead than any other group in their generation.

Mark my words: give these guys another three years and some major overseas promotions, and they’ll be better than any other K-pop group to hit the scene in years. And yes, that includes DBSK.

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  • I lurrrrrrrrrrv shinee taemini rox

  • Hi! This was fantastic; while I was reading it only because it was what I was looking for, I must say, you’re an awesome writer :D (I am actually shocked you don’t have more commenters, but I guess you’re on omona and Twitter and stuff)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this– oh and, I can’t wait to hear Taemin sing more, too ;D and see more of him //bias

    Have a lovely day!

  • I think it was really well reviewed!

  • CarrotOmNomNom

    … For some reason I was laughing the whole time ._______.
    But it’s a good review though :D And I like the way you write and structure your sentences ^^

  • Pingback: [kpop] the one most glaring hole in my SHINee postings « the innocent lam()

  • Wow I expected just a music review when I clicked on this… I can’t believe you did a review on EVERYTHING!! Even the performances!!
    Nice work! (It must have taken tooons of time and patience…. which I really have… lol I always just spend two hr or so jogging down ideas and publish them right away…)

  • nahnahstopit

    I just happen to across this post and Oh My Goodness, so much truth that already happened now in this post! Taemin’s improvement, and this: “give these guys another three years and some major overseas promotions, and they’ll be better than any other K-pop group to hit the scene in years. And yes, that includes DBSK.” Are you a paranormal or something? :p
    and I can’t believe that when Lucifer first come out no one likes it. See now!