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[Album Review] Super Junior – “Sexy, Free Single” (****)

1 Jul

Super Junior has been around for a while now and they return with their sixth. As with their previous albums, this set only features ten of the thirteen members, with Heechul leaving for military service and his place replaced by a returning Kangin. This album can also be the last one for leader Leeteuk, who is nearing his military enlistment. What does that mean for this stalwart Kpop group? New directions apparently, as they explore new styles and different sounds.

The most shocking thing about this album is how different Super Junior’s title track is: “Sexy Free Single” is radically different from the three previous lead singles, “Mr. Simple,” “Bonamana,” and “Sorry Sorry.” The production on this is far more toned down. There are no booming repetitive beats here nor do we get pulsating-out-of-speakers kind of mess here. It’s a laid back track more closely resembling an R&B dance track than a Super Junior lead single. As a result we get a sexier and more alluring track. I love the vocals towards the end where the boys just do vocal runs. Of course we still get the monotone bridges but I accept that as a Super Junior affectation since it works so well here as it does in any of their other tracks. The second track, “너로부터 (From U),” is another winner from this album, with its spectacularly laid back R&B sound matched by a vocally assured Super Junior performances. I like that this is a fan dedication even if the lyrics are more romantic than what the opening would suggest.

“Gulliver” is such an odd track with its instrumental changing dramatically in spots. It sounds very experimental that sometimes works but other times feels a tad self-indulgent. The repetitiveness of the song dulls as time goes by but I do enjoy the quality of the production. Like the previous tracks, this one is uncharacteristic for a Super Junior track even if their repetition is present. Ultimately what makes the song a tad boring to me is the seeming lack of energy coming from the boys. However the boys make up fro that with “Butterfly,” an enjoyable dance track that pulsates with energy and injecting just the right amount of personality to propel the song.

The first ballad, “Someday” is a unique track because it doesn’t especially rely on Super Junior balladry tricks (i.e. piano and grand orchestra although both are present) like their previous ballads. There’s a 90s feel to it, like old R&B but this one doesn’t exactly feel self-indulgent. At the same time, it’s not exactly groundbreaking for Super Junior either even if it feels far more unique than their other ballads. Obviously the highlight of a SuJu ballad is their singers and they delivered on that.

“Now” sees Super Junior being pop-rockers with their distinctive group vocals mixed in with some interesting instrumental. The music here is more reminiscent of early 00s pop-rock bands like The Click Five. I’m not particularly fond of the song but it’s very good and listenable. “Rockstar” is such an engaging track. Talk about conceited–it’s essentially Super Junior’s “Sexy and I Know It” with particular passages in the instrumental sounding a little too close to that LMFAO song. I love that the boys here are just enjoying themselves and it really shows through this song.

“Bittersweet” is a more enjoyable ballad than “Someday” with KRY slowly heightening their singing as the song progresses. I really like that the song isn’t painfully slow but not fast enough that it loses any semblance of a ballad. What strikes me here is how much this song sounds far less formulaic than any of Super Junior’s past ballads. There aren’t any booming orchestras that sounds cliche or manipulative. Instead, we’re here with a simple production and the voices of the boys to guide us through. It also strikes me as a very unshowy display of vocals. Usually, KRY goes a little nuts with the unnecessary runs but they have none of those here.

If “Daydream” sounds like a classy R&B song (which unfortunately you can’t say for half of the R&B songs on American radio) it’s because that’s what it exactly is. As a SuJu ballad, this one is perhaps their most effective–the vocals are dramatic and I love how the song slows just to focus in on some singers’ voices. The group harmonizes like crazy during the chorus and provides impressive background vocals. If there’s an iffy spot it’s that random change from the second chorus to the bridge that feels abrupt. Otherwise this is one beautiful song.

With such an experimental album, given its varying sounds and different genres, the boys ended with a truly experimental track, “A Goodbye”, that starts misleadingly as a ballad then transforms into a strange dance track in the chorus. Then suddenly it becomes all whimsical and slow during the second verse. Then towards the end, we get to an orchestra-led chorus fit for a Super Junior track. This song is so odd that I can’t say I love it but at the same time I can’t say I hate it. But it does make you think of what on earth were you just listening to.

Overall, Super Junior probably has another winner here. There are times when the sound feels new and invigorating but then they lapse into their safe modes masked as new experiments. I haven’t loved as many Super Junior songs in one album as I do here but that just shows how much Super Junior begins to challenge themselves as to what exactly kind of music they make and what kind of group they want to be. Lastly, I have to admit that the triumphs here outweigh the few missteps and can firmly believe that this is my favorite SuJu album to date.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

–Clarence

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