Considering the fact that so many of you wouldn’t shut the eff up about this album – my continuous promising and postponements of posting it didn’t help – you have left me with no alternative than to bust out a ginormous review for you, right here and right now. I will serve you track-by-track realness and you’re going to eat it raw and your scroll bar will weep like a little biotch, because this thing is going to be equivalent to a gigantic veiny boner. Are you gagging yet?
Junsu‘s “Tarantallegra” album is as mind-numbingly amazing and exquisitely confusing as its title. I don’t know how much sense that makes as a descriptor, but I’m hoping it’s effective because I felt all kinds of mixed emotions as I listened to this thing. A week later, I’m still quivering in anxiety.
Tarantallegra is by no means perfect, regardless of how amazing of a singer I think Junsu is. It’s important to state this in advance, because Junsu is one of K-pop’s most highly revered singers, not just by me, but by the global K-pop fandom and Korean professional critics errwhere. The fact that he’s immensely talented goes without saying at this point, however, I do believe that even the most talented people shouldn’t be easily rewarded with praise, because there is always room to grow. And where there’s room to grow there is room for mistakes to manifest in one form or another.
So, were there any of these mistakes crawling about in Tarantallegra, or is it as brilliant as we had expected it to be?
Let’s find out.
The album opens with “Sunset“, an intro track that attempts to reflect the eerie vibes Junsu (kind of) gave me in the odd album title. It’s a bare combination of grinding bass strings and a ceaseless violin note that is reminiscent of the orchestration heard in old-school horror films, except Junsu’s track comes off more like a quick hour session spent messing with Logic Studio‘s default music library than anything actually masterfully orchestral. It doesn’t do a very adequate job of introducing the tone of the album, nor is it very interesting, but at least it flows well enough into the title track.
“Tarantallegra” featuring Aziatix‘s Flowsik, is in many ways a continuation of Junsu’s past solo singles, wherein each held a very distinct character, while at the same time all sounding pretty much the same. If you gave this song a quick one over, you’d think it was a weird remixed version of “Xiahtic“. If you consider all of the elements at play, it pretty much is.
For a Junsu single, my feels are scrambled. A part of me praises the fact that he threw all convention to the wind (as per usual) and pushed his sound into a very ballsy and out there area of pop music that you wouldn’t ever hear in K-pop. Yet, I don’t know if I’m only saying that because I’m taking all of the visual mind-fuck into consideration and blending that image with what I’m hearing. If you do that, the different things about the song that would easily stick out as negatives actually diminish as a result of the shock value of the overall package. As a music reviewer, I try my best not to let that intervene with the audio experience, so I won’t. Which leads me to get into why I feel this song is a complete loose end for me.
Firstly, the chorus is, quite frankly, cheap. It’s weak in the sense that it isn’t memorable (not to mention incoherent), and it feels completely misplaced. Even as a hook, it’s weak. It sounds like background noise that was accidentally mixed out of sequence, when it could have served as an interesting detail if it were added elsewhere as background noise. It just isn’t very chorus-friendly for me as a listener, and the fact that it’s auto-tuned doesn’t help any.
In addition to the clumsy chorus, what really pulls this song down is the extraneous rap. Not only was it uninspiring, but it was utilized obnoxiously. Rather than making use of all of the seconds in the song – or cutting unnecessary sections out completely – Flowsik is spliced into the dead moments of the song (nearly twenty seconds every time he appears!) uttering a loop of nothing. It’s bad editing, and in turn, makes for a very weak detail in the song that is normally used for edge and contrast to the rest of the track.
The bare and haunting instrumental was the best aspect of “Tarantallegra”, and I enjoyed the transition to and from the middle eight, as well as the middle eight itself. But the whole thing felt progressively less edgy as the song continued, and entirely anticlimactic.
Junsu? Anticlimactic? Get outta here.
I think the shock value of this song’s music video helps loads to distract from all the wrong, but it could never completely overshadow the poor editing choices made here, and unfortunately, this is one of the main vices of this album. Even more unfortunate is that the rest of the album doesn’t have a MV to distract you every time (“Intoxication” being the exception).
That being said, it’s not all that bad.
The second song, titled “Set Me Free“, hits a little harder than the title track, and in some ways, gets a lot of things right that “Tarantallegra” got wrong. For starters, the rap section (delivered by Bizzy) functions properly and effectively. It’s not dropping in between verses as a poor, looped transitional tool, but rather aids the flow and intensity of the song in all the right places without becoming repetitive.
The song reminds me of a remastered male version of Britney Spears‘ “Womanizer“. The propelling backbeat and pulsating synths weaken my knees when I listen to it, and Junsu’s auto-tuned falsetto ad-libs only intensify the Brit-Brit comparisons. You could literally perform the choreography of “Womanizer” to this song, that’s how great of a carbon copy it is.
It’s a decent warm-up club banger at best, and that’s more than anything I can say about the lead single, so this one’s a winner among the up-tempo tracks in the album.
“No Gain” is the first of several mid-tempos. It’s a simple vocal-piano accompaniment with a generic drumkit. While the arrangement is nothing new (verging on dull), this is what Junsu has become over the years. He likes these R&B/power pop songs with a lot of drama and smooth qualities, and this song possesses both.
Unfortunately, the generic-ness of it all didn’t do much to help this song stand out, even with Junsu giving me all of that lush, whiny singing that I love to hear*.
*Was it just me or did Yoochun appear a few times in this song?
Then the album really hits the breaks with the OST track, “사랑이 싫다구요“. Thus far, the prettiest thing on the album. Junsu is one of a few singers that I love to hear on ballads as equally as I do on up-tempos. A lot of idols are fit for only one side of the coin, and that’s perfectly fine, but Junsu’s range and vocal depth is so fucking profound that he can sing anything to perfection. He has the very rare quality of making you melt with his voice, and he does that with flying colors on this song.
Considering that this is indeed an OST track, it explains why the production is a tad more complex than anything we’ve heard so far. It’s gentle, perfectly paced, and the chorus soars. All of the intricate elements in the instrumental really complement Junsu’s delicate vocal performance, like the subtle whistles in the background and the small glides of the electric guitar. All of these details keep the song interesting, which is always nice to hear in a ballad, because the last thing you want is a slow song that bores rather than captivates.
“돌고 돌아도” follows the lead of “사랑이 싫다구요” and delivers yet another gorgeous ballad. This one hits me a lot stronger than the previous one, as it welcomes a refreshing choir of female voices (unless that’s also Junsu; I wouldn’t doubt it) that break up the listening experience for me. I always like to hear sweeps of freshness in a song, kind of like that feeling of relief when you take off your headphones after an hour or so of wearing them, and that’s what these female voices do for me in this song.
One of the best tracks on the album, definitely.
Junsu’s 2010 single, “Intoxication“, marks the half way point in the album, as well as the first active song since “Set Me Free”. Considering that I’ve had this song in my life since 2010, I’ve come to grips with how awkward it is. Granted, Junsu penned the lyrics himself (“squish you baby, let me feel your naughtiness/stroke you like an arpeggio, oh yeah“, lolwut), so I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting something less lolzy from him, but dude – this is beyond the scope of the common lulz, let’s be honest.
Anyway, what I enjoyed the most about this track is that it’s a remastered Korean version of the Japanese original. I’m not sure if I’ve been listening to a low-quality version of this song, I probably have, because this one features a lot more depth that I wasn’t aware existed. Mind blown, basically. It’s kind of amazing how a remaster can change so much in a song without really removing the core magic of it.
This song differs from the Japanese version in that it features a crisper, livelier guitar line. The sharp plucks and strummed arpeggiations turn this simple baby making song into a steamy, erotic moment fit for a filthy night in Spain. It’s an old song, but it might as well be crowned the song of the album, because all of its components work perfectly and blow the Japanese version out of the water.
The album continues with “Breath“, featuring Double K. This up-tempo brings back the string details heard in some of the other tracks and lightly sprinkles them among a very electronic, urban-pop beat. The production is fancy and very underground, but it works really well. It’s not exactly memorable, but I don’t think I would skip it if it popped up on shuffle.
“알면서도” slows things back down as the next ballad on the album. It’s probably the most unremarkable ballad, as it brings absolutely nothing particularly special to what we’ve heard already, nor anything fresh to complement Junsu’s vocal performance.
It’s an average, Disney-esque slow roller, and it didn’t help its impact that it was placed right before “Lullaby“, arguably the strongest ballad on the album.
“Lullaby” is the only ballad that draws inspiration from the R&B style that Junsu loves to play with in his lead single.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album drops the ball when it comes to intensity and matching the success of some of the better songs on “Tarantallegra”.
“Fever” is an average up-tempo song that doesn’t really go anywhere. Where it does go is straight to the back burner. It definitely has a JYJ vibe to it, and I feel like this would have worked much better with all three voices mixing up the vocal lead, because as it stands it really is forgettable and flat.
The album closes with “이슬을 머금은 나무“. For an album that was overwhelmed with sappy ballads, this one doesn’t stand out in the least bit. In fact, I feel like it could have used another run through by the mixing engineer, because something about the vocals doesn’t sit properly with the rest of the song, especially in the chorus. They’re definitely a bit on the hot side for me, like Junsu’s whispering loudly into my ear.
As much as I’d like that to actually happen, trust me I do, it didn’t really sit right to my ears. Perhaps it’s the fact that the entire chorus is a series of accents, but I think at least doubling his voice or chorus-ing it would have broadened the sharpness a bit. Either way, the song drags on forever and doesn’t stand out from the rest of the bunch.
“Tarantallegra” is a set of hits and misses for me, with the slower moments acting as anchors more than smooth, sensible bridges between the louder sections of the album. It struggles to create momentum, and when it does, an anchor is set and ready to stop it in its tracks. I feel like there wasn’t a strong enough relationship between the slow and fast songs on “Tarantallegra”, when there could have been had Junsu taken the time to think as big about his ballads as he did with his up-tempos. It’s clear that Junsu wants his ballads to be pretty and melodic, but when the rest of the songs are modeled after cheap dance tracks, the continuity starts feeling as unbalanced as that of an SM Entertainment album.
The best moments of this album came when Junsu served us a mouthful of all that voice and paired it with styles that work as a complement. He loves his strings and he adores his urban-pop, and for the most part, Junsu made them flow pretty freaking well. I appreciate the bareness of most of the uptempo tracks, albeit most forgettable, because it’s a direct contrast from the pop songs you hear now that are chock full of bullshit noise.
Tarantallegra gave us simple, noiseless music. It fell flat more times than I would have liked, and the overall tone got lost on me, but this is a really interesting start for Junsu to experiment even further with in his future projects.
Author Recommendation: For a perfect example of what a proper ballad should sound like, at least one that resembles the edge of what Junsu attempted to capture in his lead single, I highly suggest listening to Spanish pop diva Monica Naranjo‘s 2008 exceptional album, coincidentally titled “Tarantula“.