Like a lot of albums this year, so I've noticed, I had zero expectations for this. I mean at the back of my mind I was expecting the usual SM formula of lead single, token uptempo, and ballads for everything else, but another part of me wanted this album to be good, for reasons even I'm not so sure. Maybe, just maybe, SM would bring out something brilliant, because they are perfectly capable of it. The teaser didn't do anything to those expectations, but I'm afraid this album is a whole different story.
Or rather, a non-existent story. Brace yourselves for another snooze-fest, my friends. Although, in defense, this isn't a snooze-fest because all the songs are lost causes. There are some songs in here that actually have a lot of potential if done right. But ultimately, that's also where the problem is. Super Junior have been around for seven years now -- this is their sixth album, and it's still mediocre. Potential, and "it would be better if..."'s are for groups in their first two or three years, not for senior groups who have almost immeasurable stature in K-Pop.
The execution is another major problem, and it's the part of the album I'm most disappointed in. I expected much, much, better. Their half-baked, bored execution is yet another indication that they most probably know that this album isn't any good. But that's not the way to do it, because a lot of these songs could've been decent with a bit of conviction and fearless execution.
Just last week I was talking about fearless pop, courtesy of Jokwon's brilliant album, and how apt that was, because Super Junior have showed us the exact opposite, in the form of the album's lead single. "Sexy, Free and Single" is an over-all good idea for a song, executed in a scared and confused way. The verses are strong, both vocally and arrangement-wise, with SM's always-strong production sweeping in and tying everything together. It has the right combination of groove and stiff synths, and the melody is gorgeous. The bridges get even better on all levels, leading to what I think is a chorus, still well-executed and with very apt vocal treatment, and then BAM, the build up abruptly disappears into a generic, overused and annoying Super Junior chanting session. It doesn't even dissolve or fizzle -- it just stops in mid-air and goes straight to the disaster. The middle 8 that follows another repetition of that cycle is beautiful, but the hook comes in again and ruins everything. Everything.
What happened, SM? I was this close to calling "Sexy, Free and Single" a good song!
Lack of cohesion aside, the biggest problem is that the part of the song that messes everything up is, in K-Pop, the single most important part. Of anything. K-Pop songs depend of their hooks to get people listening -- the hook is the part that's played on variety shows or when members dance. This is the part that will get the most airtime outside of the song, and it's crap, because they can't see through what they started. Because they're afraid.
Pop should be fearless. End of story.
If you listen really, really, reeeeeeeally hard, "Someday" is actually a pretty song. But it's the kind of song that just sits there, waiting for you to notice it when it's not actually that pretty. It's a song that's neither exceptionally stunning nor pathetically bad, but it's those songs that need to work especially hard, because they're the closest to being amazing, and it's highly possible that they will be. With a little push, which this song doesn't have. Blame it on the fact that it's not just KRY, or on the boring arrangement (that even my beloved strings couldn't save), bottom line is, this song could've been so much more. Scrap that cheesy instrumental before the middle 8, make the vocals a little more interested, and make things explode -- that would've been pretty stunning, if you asked me.
"NOW" is clearly a filler track, there's no other plausible explanation of why this song is on this album when it's so out of place. It's also ridiculously confused. I get that they want to be all melodic, tongue-in-cheek, British pop-rock, and that's actually what the song is, but the problem is that it's so anticlimactic. They shouldn't have chorused the chorus (that makes sense, okay! it does!), because SuJu chorus vocals are thin to start with, and the production on this song was also very light and airy.
In fairness to them, "Rockstar" isn't as bad as it was when I first heard it, and I was actually this close to saying it was pretty okay (which has been happening with a lot of the songs on this album, if you've noticed), but then the "Oh. My. God. I'm. So. Hot." line came up and my perpetual face palm for this song returned. I don't really have an exceptionally big problem with songs like this if they're done right, but the Super Junior version sounds half-baked and scared, and that kind of delivery makes songs like this funny. If you're going to do fierce, you have to do it fearlessly.
And the same goes for "Butterfly", actually. The instrumental is interesting at the beginning, and the melody is a noble idea, but it's just so boring it hurts. "Bittersweet" is actually slightly better than "Butterfly", because at least it doesn't have the overpowering synths and horrid chanting laced together.
"Daydream" is yet another diamond in the rough. And at this point I'm very frustrated because after seven years of work, I expected sparkly, edgy and stunning diamonds, and now that I'm at the tail end of the display, they're either still graphite, or really rough diamonds. I mean "Daydream" has a pretty melody, but right now I could name over a hundred other songs with pretty melodies. Like everything else on this album, it doesn't demand your attention -- it doesn't sparkle.
"A 'Good' Bye" has a bit more sparkle, thank goodness. What makes me like this song a little more is that it actually tries to be a little more interesting. All the little details here and there, like the guitar line and the string section, plus the gimmicks like the ticking clock -- they try to catch your attention. It's mostly in vain because the song still bores to death, but after everything else, seeing some kind of initiative is obviously better. An okay way to end the album, given the circumstances.
Super Junior are supposed to be one of the "forerunners" of K-Pop, of pop music in Asia. But tell me, how are they supposed to live up to that title if even they are afraid of pop? If even they, after seven years, countless awards and industry influence at their disposal, cannot, for the lives of them, deliver a fearless pop album?
The Best: “From U”
The Better: “Sexy, Free and Single”
The Worst: "Gulliver"
The Rating: 1.5/5