With Super Junior, the story is always the same. They release a stellar lead, only to be followed by a ho-hum album. It’s one of K-pop’s most disappointing realizations, yet deep down, each one of us hopes that somewhere, some day they break the cycle. That, or we contrive some complex falsehood as to why things are the way they are, believe it, and sell it as convincingly as the entertainment companies do, or even moreso.
The truth of the matter is, though, that substantially most of Super Junior’s albums aren’t very substantial at all, and the offenses have continued in predictable trends. What I’m really trying to say is that “Sexy, Free, And Single” is as much a disappointment as I had predicted, and I’m just beating around the bush for shits and giggles. But what makes this occasion worse than past occasions is that this year, Super Junior have actually released one of their best lead singles in years. The shame comes in that the lead single is trailed by SuJu’s weakest supporting cast yet.
So let’s just get into it, then.
The light-disco style of Super Junior’s 2012 comeback single “Sexy, Free, And Single” starts things on the right note. It deviates from the tired ‘SJ Funky’ vibes of their past three singles and welcomes elements that are equally familiar as they are fresh to listen to under these voices. Donghae and Eunhyuk tackled a way more derivative form of disco in their duo track “Oppa, Oppa“, which was comical first, but kind of fun and refreshing to hear from them as well. I get a similar response when I listen to “Sexy, Free, And Single”, except in this case the reward is two fold because the proper time and attention was given to the track, resulting in a dance number that fills more technical voids than a silly duet.
One great thing about “Sexy, Free, And Single” is the vocal performance. SM Entertainment is known for high-end productions, but this song in particular did a fantastic job of utilizing Super Junior’s vocal tonalities. Ryeowook in particular sounds fucking glorious as he glimmers in those high frequencies, standing out with that high pitched voice of his, practically hovering over everyone. It’s a true shame then that his lines were cut short, because in the few bits that you do hear him, he pierces perfectly through all the murky synths. Every voice in the high end, actually, sounds really good. It’s the lower vocals, like Kyuhyun, that are conclusively swallowed whole.
Overall, this song is not bad at all. The verses and the pre-chorus are seamless, strong, and melodic. The only section that I’m not 100% sold on is the hook. It’s not exactly out of place, but it’s definitely intrusive. It’s abrupt and clashes with the flow of the song. It’s not as cray cray as what was going on in “Mr. Simple“, but we’re left jerking back and forth through the entire song, like sitting in the passenger’s seat of a car being driven by a first-timer, who’s hitting the breaks every few dozen feet out of sheer fear of movement.
Yet, a jerky title track is nothing next to the uneventful set of follow-ups on the album. Much like 2010′s “Bonamana” album, this one is littered in sedative tracks. After the retro-pop of the lead single, we’re administrated with
drugs songs that test our short attention span and/or cognitive state.
“Someday“, a soft pop ballad, is pretty (what SuJu ballad isn’t, is a good question), but also very filler. I resent these when Super Junior specifically throw their potentially gorgeous voices on Disney sappy songs for the sake of pretty intermission time. The sax and progression in the middle eight was semi-lively, but other than that it really had nothing else going for it, which sounds counter-intuitive to say when I’m listening to Kyuhyun and Yesung sing like Gods.
The same can be said about “Bittersweet“, which sounds like a song utilized in a different act of the same throwaway Disney musical SME has produced here. This one in particular reminds me a lot of “Last Christmas“, which is quite the opposite reference I want to think of in the Summer.
But the main issue is not the songs, but their purpose. Their placement within the album is still a sign that SME hasn’t gotten their A&R in check and would rather continue with this flimsy idea of albums, and consequently reduce potentially really good songs (in this case, all these damn ballads) to boring fillers. There’s one exception, though, and it’s no surprise that it appears early on in the album.
The best of the slow jams on this album is the pop/R&B cross promo track “From U“, which was crafted as an ode to ELF. Given the influence, of course there was some thought put into it, and therefore it isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s actually technically-wise the best song on the album. SME knows how to churn out optimal R&B songs, and while this one is basically the same as any other SME R&B track, it’s that familiar greatness that feeds the beauty of this song.
Performed by Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, and Yesung, this is a classic feel-good Super Junior number. The composition is simple and generic, allowing all the room for the vocals to soar and operate as the driving force of the song. The chorus is repetitive, but not monotonous, never once flying out of control with crazyass ad-libs. It’s a simple formula: simple beat, familiar style, top-notch vocals. Utilizing just those three with Super Junior will never fail to produce something magical.
Of course, what is pop music without janky experimentation. Enter, the up-tempo tracks.
“Gulliver“, a bare urban song comprised of a chant-hook and pseudo-rap, is a failed attempt to reprise the epic “Superman” move they made last year. Where “Superman” was thrilling, exciting, and downright awesome, I think going for that particular type of song only works once, because “Gulliver” sinks waist high in monotony, choppy transitions and anticlimactic progressions. The last moments of acceleration were interesting, but again, poorly used with little effect on the song as a whole.
“Now” follows a more pop-rock style that we’ve heard on Super Junior before, and while it’s not necessarily awful, it’s uninteresting and uneventful at its very best.
“Rockstar” is a comical party anthem that is an obvious play on LMFAO‘s type of music, with hilarious lyrics (“oh – my – God, I’m – so – hot“) and playful verses, which actually work really well for Super Junior because they’re at their best when they aren’t taking themselves too seriously. They allow their comedic value to shine, and it actually works.
The same logic applies to “Butterfly“, a popstep clusterfuck club banger that somehow has grown on me and may or may not be my favorite track on the album.
It’s sad to say, but “Mr. Simple” (the album) left a far stronger impression than “Sexy, Free, And Single” did, and it all boils down to how dull and purposeless most of its tracklist is on the whole. It’s another disappointing effort for Super Junior and it just doesn’t hold up to their work pre-2010.
For a group that has been around for so long, their music has yet to resonate as passionately as fans would like it to, or just simply live up to the standards that people hold Super Junior to. They’re not pushing boundaries and they’re not pushing themselves musically, and it reads loud and clear as we’re dragged along for this pony ride of an album. The talent and attitude is there, don’t get me wrong on that, but Super Junior’s musical spark is on its last flickers before they’re burned out for good.