While I was listening to the album for the first time I started pointing out similarities between this album and SHINee's older repertoire. Take "Spoiler", which I actually really like as a song -- it quite literally takes off from last year's "Sherlock" and goes on to become a completely different package. The problem with "Spoiler" is that it depends too much on the novelty of it being a "Sherlock" rehash, so when that novelty wears off, you're left with a pretty flat song. The production is strong, the vocals are competent, but what's supposed to be its focal point can't last for more than a few replays -- they banked on a quality of the song that's more of a quaint add-on at the expense of the actual, lasting elements like the melody.
I won't deny that it was fun at first to see the elements that they managed to carry over from previous releases, but like "Spoiler", the further I got in the album the more the similarities got a little too overpowering, so much that I didn't really hear anything new or fresh. "Girls Girls Girls" is a gorgeous, fun song, and it's the type of song I can set as my alarm and wake up in a good mood with, but this is the type of song that's all surface and no depth, and it's not even the kind where the surface gives it the dept. This isn't something I'd listen to seriously or when I'm really paying attention to, because when I do it only reminds me of how this sounds like a bored "WOWOWOW" rehash -- and I love "WOWOWOW".
"Aside" starts out with this boring melody, which only serves to bring out that cheesy lounge piano line more than it should've. Then, while the chorus gets cheerier and develops some body, they got there by padding, by just making everything louder and not necessarily tweaking the actual framework. It's kind of like how you pile the sauce on a tasteless dish -- sure the sauce makes it taste good, but take away the sauce and it's not really that amazing.
The same goes for "Beautiful" and "Dynamite". Despite the fact that they're two different songs, two different sounds, they both sound like the producers tried to put this trendy Euro synth line under a "serious", "mature" melody. But Eurotrash isn't exactly the most interesting thing in the world and most of the time it works only because the arrangement was done really well or the melody is really interesting and takes care of the dynamics of the entire song -- neither of which either song has. "Dynamite" does a bit of a better job in the dynamics department, but the problem is that the gaps between the shifts and snaps is too wide that they lose the shock factor, kind of like what happened to "I Got A Boy". You can't let things simmer too much, because they'll just drag out and get boring.
I repeat, maturing does not mean becoming boring.
Similarly, the chorus of "Hitchhiking" reminds me of something from "Romeo", mostly "Juliette", but then it's not here nor there either. Taste aside it's one of the better songs on the album, well put-together with strong production, dynamics and some interesting elements. But where this song succeeds, it also falls flat. Sure, there are a lot of things going on, and most of the time that's a good thing, but in this case there are a lot of things that sound like they were just thrown in because it was possible and not because they'd actually contribute something to the song. The chaos in those elements weigh the entire song down so instead of being able to savor everything, the song kind of becomes this unrecognizable mush and you lose track of what's happening where. Nothing stands out, so you lose track of the focal point.
Most of the time the "burden" of pulling the album together lies in the lead single, which in this case is "Dream Girl". It's a good song, it has some really glorious moments and I totally get what SHINee's going for on this song, but I just don't think it's single material. It's hard to verbalize what "single material" is, because a great song can have oomph and dynamics but not be single material, or it can have none of those qualities but still sound like a potential single. I guess it's easier to define that by taking about "Dream Girl" and how it's not single material, so that's what I'll do. Honestly "Dream Girl" sounds like those companion/secondary songs that groups perform for comeback weekend -- the ones that are good, but lack that wow factor that the single has.
It's a similar case with "Punch Drunk Love". This is one of the better, more interesting tracks on the album, probably the best if we add my personal taste, but it's also one of the few where they managed to bring in the "old" SHINee without boring me to sleep. I love the dynamics of everything. The arrangement's really really good, and the very gutsy but full arrangements are nicely contrasted by the smooth but slightly sharp chorus vocals. This song pretty much sums up the entire album, because even if it's a really good song, it's not single material -- it's a great album track, and it's not like it lacks oomph because true to the title, it really does have punch, but that's the farthest it'll go.
"Runway" is another of the songs that stood out for me at first, but like some of the other songs on the album it's appeal is very novel and so it wears off after a while. I love the melody and the whimsical kind of fun going on, as opposed to the youthful kind that the other stuff have, but at the end of it all it's very generic -- I can name like twenty other boy bands who have done, or could do, a song like this. "Runaway" is nothing new, and while SHINee probably have better vocals and better production than majority of those twenty other boy bands, they're also a lot older and so this isn't exactly the ground-breaking stuff you'd expect from a group of their stature and calibre. This is one of those songs that show how, no matter how good the elements of a song are, no matter how good the production is, it all boils down to how those individual elements come together -- whether they just work by themselves, or make magic together.
Like I always say, there's a limit to how much you can follow a single musical identity, it should always be a balance between the new and the familiar. And I didn't get that fresh familiarity in this album. Lately, especially starting last year, I feel like SHINee's musical direction has hit a plateau -- they're still making SHINee-sounding albums, but they're not really going anywhere else with them. They're not making bad music, and this isn't a horrible album, but at the same time there's nothing new or ground-breaking about it. That's not a bad thing per se, they're just getting boring.