XIA (Junsu) - "Incredible"

Last year's "Tarantallegra" sort of mentally prepared me for whatever ridiculous mediocrity I thought C-Jes and Junsu would deliver with "Incredible", and even after hearing, and savoring, the jaw-dropping "11AM", I didn't get my hopes up too high. And yet, I was proven wrong yet again -- for all the right reasons. To put it simply, "Incredible" is a huge improvement from "Tarantallegra" in terms of over-all quality. Surprise of all surprises, this album actually has strong production to show off. The songs and the sounds themselves are different, and this new album is not without its flaws, but the difference in production quality then and now is striking to say the least. After a slew of potentially strong albums ruined by bad production quality, it's about time C-Jes deliver some solid production.

Listening to the album, it also sounds a lot more natural than "Tarantallegra". "Incredible" still has its pretentious moments (which we'll get to in a while), but as a whole I got the impression that the entire production team was a lot more comfortable this time around. So much so that there's still room to have some fun and put some playfulness into the album.

"No Reason" is a strong opening for the album, even if I was a bit confused because Junsu didn't sound like himself at the very beginning. The verses are a bit grating, half because of Junsu's voice and half because of the melody itself, but over-all the melody is really pretty. The chorus is confident, and coupled with the conviction in Junsu's voice it explodes in all the right ways. This is the type of song that's really depended on the delivery -- it's not like an OST-type song (which we'll get to later) which is ultimately still the same song regardless of the singer's skill set. Songs like "No Reason" are flat and possibly boring until you pile on effects and harmonies and, most importantly, the singer. The contrast between the gritty verses and the very smooth, almost soaring, chorus is the selling point of the song, it's what makes the package interesting, and if it's not done justice everything will fall apart. Thankfully, Junsu delivers everything with confidence, and we get a song that's interesting enough.

One of the things that bothered me a bit with this album was that there are two ballads, in succession, out of the first three songs. However, hearing "Rainy Eyes" completely changed my mind. Two things make this song another jaw-dropper -- the arrangement and Junsu's vocals. The arrangement is gorgeous. The sax is a bit cheesy around the edges, but I like the over-all atmosphere that you get from the piano line and the sax together. The drum line in all its gorgeous complexity and layering, brings the arrangement together and gives the graceful elements the kick they need. The dynamics on this song are also drop-dead gorgeous -- it's not a noisy song, and because of that you're able to hear everything unfold. However, it's not the arrangement that's responsible for the explosions -- it's Junsu's vocals. Those vocals are stunning to begin with, and the melody goes in a pushes Junsu's range. You have really low dips in the verses, and then Junsu just lets loose and starts belting by the bridges, only to lay low at the chorus. All-out belting starts at the first bridge. The first bridge. The melody is able to carry the song because the dynamics are spot-on, but at the same time it's not doing all the work on its own because the instrumental carries its own weight perfectly fine. Like "11AM", this is another song that you can take for its face value and be entertained, but is also complex enough to analyze and be wowed.

Before the album even came out I was kind of expecting the OST-material ballads because they're staples in most K-Pop releases, and this is Junsu we're talking about -- labels seem to think that gorgeous voices need to "prove themselves" through ballads, and ballads only. "Incredible" has two of these which, in a sense, is a step in the right direction. At least we're not swimming in them like we used to be. As songs, "미안" and "가지마" are your standard OST ballads. They're pretty, yes, with gorgeous melodies and all these sweeping string sections and elaborate arrangements, but we've heard all of these before. Junsu carries the songs, and though it's not blasphemous or anything, I would've liked it if the songs themselves did some carrying too, like "Rainy Eyes" or "No Reason". While I will find myself listening to these songs again just because they're genuinely gorgeous songs, especially "미안" with those electric guitars sprinkled on top of a stunning arrangement of strings and real-ish sounding drums, and because Junsu is a fantastic singer, that's all they'll ever be -- pretty songs. And I can't help but want more out of someone as talented and practiced as Junsu.

"Chocolate Girl" is one of my favorites from the album, even if the title made me giggle at first. What I like about the song is that the dynamics are strong from the melody to the arrangement -- they both have their own quirks. Unlike the other songs where one or the other carries the explosions, "Chocolate Girl" has explosions at the melody, and explosions at the arrangement. I could, and would, listen to the instrumental alone and still be entertained. I also really like how the song didn't cower away from the "lounge"-y/jazzy pop sound, because that's what makes it such a pleasure to listen to -- it took a sound and ran with it. As a firm believer that jazz is nowhere near boring, the fact that "Chocolate Girl" is confident yet still sounds jazz-y enough for a pop song, automatically puts this in my good books. But the bottom line is that this is a song that's comfortable with itself, and a song that epitomizes my impression of the album -- it doesn't sound forced, and because of that it's able to let loose a bit while still being a strong song.

I was very much prepared to be disappointed by "Incredible", and in a sense I am. Like a lot of others, I'm half-and-half -- the song has its moments, but at the same time a few moments here and there aren't enough to make a song amazing. The whole song should've been that moment, but it's not. For example, the chorus is gorgeous -- it's glorious in it's epicness, and it's extremely catchy without being annoying. But I think the main problem with "Incredible" lies in the arrangement. While it is an epic song, it becomes monotonous in trying to sustain that high-energy sound, thus blurring whatever semblance of dynamics the song was supposed to have. The first time I heard the song I didn't even know the chorus hit until it was over -- there was no clear transition from the bridge to the chorus, and the one from the verse to the bridge was too faint in comparison to the intensity of the song. The song just goes on and on and on until it ends, and nothing is striking enough to either create friction, or sustain interest. That said, there are parts I do enjoy, like the chorus, taken alone the melody is pretty, and dynamics aside the instruments used are really summery and light. Would I listen to this again? Yes. Do I think it's a great song? No.

"나 지금 고백한다" is a really pretty song -- it's nice a light and quaint. It's a well-made filler track, which I'll take over whatever kind of bad any day. I love how it sounds so updated 90's, with the choice of synth and even the melody and the nature of the rap parts. This was also one of the songs that made me realize just how strong the production is on this album. But above all, it shows just how flexible Junsu is as a singer, not in terms of "concept" or style, but in terms of his voice. He can do all the belting, the OST songs and the up tempos, but he's more than just a belting machine, which is what labels turn a lot of "strong singers" into -- the substance is balanced with just the right amount of style.

"Turn It Up" is similar -- Junsu carries the song and is able to adapt to the style, while giving the song the substance it needs. One of the things I don't like about "Turn It Up" is that it's almost too heavy and it tries a little too hard to be "hip-hop", but ultimately what saves it is Junsu's confident delivery. Despite the attempt being almost comedic, Junsu isn't ashamed, and that brevity does wonders to the execution, and the song as a whole. "사랑하나 봐" is yet another filler track, and while it isn't bad, as far as filler tracks go "나 지금 고백한다" is much better. This one though is of the cheesy kind, and I'm not sure if that was on purpose or not, with the piano line and the guitar. What I do know is that Junsu sure makes it sound like it's on purpose, and brings the cheesy melody one step further. I would listen to this again, just for the melody and Junsu's voice.

A while ago I was saying that I wished "Incredible" was a moment in itself, and it seems like someone was listening to me, because while I didn't get my moment of a lead single, I did get an album track that is possibly the moment of the album -- the song that quite literally yanked me away from wherever my mind was wandering to and made me pay attention. "Fantasy", as a song on paper, reminds me a bit of SISTAR19's "A Girl In Love", but the two take completely different routes and, in turn, become two very different songs. What I like about "Fantasy" is that it's strong from the very beginning until the very end. It catches your attention at the beginning with that stunning melody delivered confidently by Junsu's vocals, launches into this verse that prances around all pretty, before adding to the chorus that we heard at the beginning like it's the most natural thing. That's another thing that makes this song so good -- it's understated. The dynamics are there, but they're not in your face -- they're subtle. On paper, as notes, the melody seems simple and possibly boring, but Junsu's timbre and his delivery, with the contrast that short, yet smooth, lines create, gives the song dimension. The high notes at the chorus don't sound forced, creating an air of effortlessness. "Fantasy" is a song that is dependent on the delivery not because the song isn't good enough, but because its simplicity opens so many possibilities, and because the possibility chosen focused on all the right things.

"이 노래 웃기지" is the one song on the album that I really don't get. There's too much style -- too much screaming and novelty -- and the hook is ridiculously annoying that the first time I listened to the album I had to skip this song after the first chorus. Listening to it again from start to finish, I still don't get it. It's probably because I put a premium on melody, but even as a song that doesn't have a melody -- it's monotonous, too in-your-face, and noisy. Not loud, noisy. There's most probably a time and place for songs like this, but until I find that, I can't wrap my head around this yet.

Usually when I hear these pre-release songs again as album tracks, they lose a dimension of themselves, and I don't like them as much as I did when I first heard them. However, that's not the case with "11AM" because it's still as good now as it was when I first heard it, and I still think it's an amazing song that was done justice by its delivery. However, hearing it now in relation to the other eleven songs, I think this was the right "pre-release" song. It is the epitome of what I think "Incredible" was going for, which is an album that is unassuming on the surface -- simple, but entertaining -- yet complex and well thought-through underneath. Quoting what I said in my review of "11AM":

...it's a song that you can either enjoy for what it is, or take apart into tiny pieces. It's reachable to the untrained ear -- that gorgeous melody, the fantastic singing -- you can listen to it as is, without thinking, and it will be its beautiful self and entertain you. But underneath it is complex in its simplicity -- the thought that went into it, the techniques used to deliver it -- taking it apart is just as entertaining as sitting back and letting it wow you.

Despite the many differences, it's good to know that one thing hasn't changed -- Junsu is still getting material that shows off his voice, and his abilities as a singer. I would listen to majority of this album again, some because the songs are genuinely good packages, but more because of Junsu's vocals. And while I'd like it if his vocals were matched with twelve equally amazing songs, "Incredible" is getting there. Very slowly. (But still getting there!) This album would not be as effortless as it sounds if not for Junsu's delivery.

My favorite(s): "Fantasy", "11AM"
Song(s) I'd listen to again: "No Reason", "Rainy Eyes", "Chocolate Girl", "나 지금 고백한다", "미안"
My least favorite: "이 노래 웃기지"
The final verdict: 4.2/5

4 comments:

  1. Man, I have yet to listen to the whole album but the title track gives me a great feel for this second album already. I'm definitely going to learn the dance as well!

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  2. I have to say that I agree with you in most of your point about the song but I somehow confused. You gave catch me album 4.7/5 which I found overly overated. But u gave junsu 4.2? I expect it to be 4.5 seing that you like 7 out of 12 songs. Don't take me wrong. I don't hate homin and saying that their songs sucks, I enjoyed couple of songs myself and still stuck as my favorites. I take it that you have grown mature in giving points to singers. And I really appreciate your explanation and appreciation of the songs though its just a filler track.

    about the funny song, you don't have to like it. Junsu even wonder if his fans like it. the song is like the nameless song. you have to focus on the lyric instead of the melody. this song is about junsu telling us his tour story. LOL. He knows people make fun of his tarantall. way to go junsu!!

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  3. Just want to comment on the Funny Song..

    Just like you said, this album is hom being "natural". If you know Junsu, you'll know that this song is really "him" - at least one of his many personalities. He's truely just expressing himslef. And this, I would say, is done through the lyrics, and not the song itslef. He prob. had a lax approach to the melody/composition so as to help enhance what he's saying.

    I think his choice of "tune" was good for his message~

    I also personally like the song, lol. It makes he laugh and act ridiculous (prob. what he was going for).

    P.S. Lovely review~

    ReplyDelete
  4. I thought '11A.M' was a excellent until I listened to "Rainy Eyes". The song is gold because everything works so beautifully...from the singer's execution of the song to the melody itself. It is just so beautiful that I literally replay this song none stop for an hour the first time I listened to it.
    My least favourite song and probably the only one is '이 노래 웃기지' (can't decide on 'Incredible'). The song is so annoying with the one repetition throughout the whole song. It's confusing too.
    Overall, this album is the best Junsu's solo album for me. His previous full-length release was good but it didn't quite meet my expectations. As for this album...I need to save up my money and get it.
    P.S : Junsu looks so hot in this album.

    ReplyDelete

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