Saharial, a moderator in the soompi forums and a self-confessed pop junkie, presents her selection of 2007 releases – and has some words of comfort for a disappointing release which didn’t make her list
First up is the King of Ballads — Sung Si Kyung. This sixteen track 5th Album called The Ballads opens with the number On The Street written by singer-songwriter Yoon Jong Shin, a long-time collaborator with Sung Si Kyung, and it’s a partnership that works very well. The song was the first single released from the album and proved very popular with fans and in the charts. Who do you love?, the follow-up single, also by Yoon Jong Shin, showcased Si Kyung’s ability to sing in English, as well as his more playful side with the dance that accompanied it on the gayo shows. As a whole though, the album is well thought-out and put-together, the right balance between Ballad and more upbeat, and is never too melancholy. As always, Si Kyung’s vocals are flawless, picking songs exactly right for his voice range and for his styles. Si Kyung himself worked on two of the songs.
Lee Minwoo‘s Explore M is a prime example of hard work and collaboration to produce a well-timed and well-polished album. Rather than stagnate with one image and style, each album M produces changes flavour slightly as he tries to push forward with his sound. M is a performer in the total sense of the word: the upbeat tracks are written to be performed, danced to and played in clubs for everyone to interact with. He collaborates with veteran performers such as JK of Drunken Tiger and those he has worked with before such as Tablo of Epik High. Having composed and produced eight of the tracks on the album as compared to two on each of Second Winds and Un-Touch-Able, you feel this one is pushing closer to the sound he is trying to achieve, and demonstrates his confidence as an artiste.
Fly to the Sky — No Limitations — their 7th album, is one that has been put together incredibly well. Typically an R&B album, it stands the replay test better than Transition with each of the twelve songs retaining the distinctive sound FTTS is known for. Each song keeps the balance between their vocals nicely timed, Brian’s vocals showing improvement due to his solo album training and Hwanhee’s as rich as ever providing the right balance. 3beolssae nal (track 9) has a catchy refrain to it, My Angel is a really sweet FFTS ballad, but for me Keolhunhaji ma (track 10) is worth buying the album for by itself. Lyrics, composition and arrangement by Cho Kyu Ch’an. I can’t comment on the repackage yet, but judging by this release, it’s worth it!
The only female singer I’ve included in this list was Hwang Bo, formerly of the girl group Chak’ra and a regular on shows such as X-Men and Love Letter. Often teased for being ‘like a man’ and a tomboy, she’s a character I admired for standing out from the rest as being a strong independent lady. This admiration extends to her first solo album Lady in Black that shows a far softer and more feminine side to her than before and the revelation that she has a very interesting and complex voice. Slightly lower pitched and capable of a wide range of notes, it has a husky edge and a warm tone to it. I had no idea really what to expect from this album, but its slight bias to ballads and mid tempo prevent it from being a typical sexy singer style — something that befits a more veteran performer. It Girl is the closest track to the sexy style touted by many singers, but it’s nicely arranged and seems to echo the energy of her strong personality. I particularly enjoyed the ballads which show off that lovely huskiness in her voice and give it a depth of emotion others with higher and more purer tones cannot achieve.
Last but not least on my list is the first solo outing of Kim Dongwan which is an interesting pick and mix of styles and collaborations. From the rock Scream to the duet with Shin Hyesung, there is a variety of styles that ensure each song stands out from the other and the album does not merge into a morass of mediocrity. My Love features fellow Shinhwa member Eric and was composed and produced by Minwoo, providing familiarity of style and ease of listening. Involving other artistes such as Shin Hyesung, Andy of Shinhwa, MC Mong, DBace and Wanted makes it almost a collaboration album, but despite the list it doesn’t give that feel when listening to it. It’s good to see Kim Dongwan finally getting his chance to shine as a solo artiste and given time he will only get better.
Of the albums I bought but didn’t include, The Beginning, New Days — Shin Hyesung’s second solo album, was the one that sadly disappointed me the most. It is a good album, and but that is mostly down to the beautiful voice that Shin Hyesung possesses. The choice of First Person as the ballad to be released was not the wisest one as it focuses more on his lower voice range which is not as strong as his mid to ultra high range. The song itself is quite monotonous in places whereas Island — a ballad perfect for his voice range — is not. Island would have made a much better opening release. ChungShim, (a.k.a. The Miss Terry song) whose catchy tune and ‘cute’ dance which was only the follow-up single, would also have made a better choice, its feel of seventies funk and the obvious enjoyment he took in performing it showed the happier fun side to his personality and would have made a refreshing change.
The album is not a disaster, indeed I do actually enjoy listening to it very much, but comparing it to his first album Love of May you can tell there is a lack of personal contact, with only one song being worked on by Hyesung himself compared to five in the earlier album. This year’s album itself was delayed since its original projected release of May, and Hyesung revealed at a concert he had recently split with a girlfriend so it’s easy to make the assumption that personal issues have dogged the creative process. It could however be something more, as a small article in June that indicated he and GoodEnt had temporarily parted company over unpaid wages, as had Eric Mun, something that barely seemed to register in papers.
Perhaps this album is the result of a turbulent year, but out of all the Shinhwa members to have released a solo effort this year, his does unfortunately rank lowest. Exemption from the army means he will have more then enough time to rebuild his esteem and smooth things out personally and creatively so that his next effort will move him forward as an artist. I am a fan of Shin Hyesung, and my review is not a criticism of his character or who he is as a person. As a fan though I do worry that composers for him will become complacent and pass off lesser songs to him, knowing that his voice and fans’ love can smooth over any shortcomings in melody and arrangement. I’m keen to see and hear more from Hyesung, perhaps in collaboration with Minwoo, someone he has worked with for many years and who understands what his voice is capable of. Perhaps he could follow the route of Sung ShiKyung, Yoon Jong Shin and change to a company that allows him to develop his own distinct ballad style without the pressure of being a cash cow. Live performances during Shinhwa concerts and an admiration of Seo TaiJi and the Boys indicate that there is more than just a desire to break hearts with ballads. I hope he gets that room to grow and surprise fans with a wide choice of styles, and I look forward to seeing his next effort.
The k-pop world will go through some pretty big changes next year as many of top artistes sign off from their current careers to do their required 2 years National Service. Sung Si Kyung, Kangt’a, Minwoo, Kim Dongwan to name but a few will depart throughout the year leaving a great void for new acts and returning old ones to fill. The strong fan-base they have, and their talent will make it an easy return I think, and the time will pass fast, we hope, and more than likely with a few dramas and ‘scandal’ to keep everyone busy in the meantime.