[Review] “Don’t Call Me” updates SHINee’s sound, for better or worse

It’s been about two and a half years since SHINee’s last comeback, and longer since they actively promoted a title track. Don’t Call Me arrives in between military enlistments, with youngest member Taemin yet to take his hiatus. It’s halcyon days for fans at this point, offering a window for SHINee to make an impactful comeback and reassert their already-unchallenged legacy. So, how does this single stack up with the rest of their discography?

Apparently, Don’t Call Me has been kicking around the SM offices for awhile now, and was most recently pitched to BoA. She refused, stating that the track would be better suited for a group. Judging by its sharp hooks and hip-hop beat, I have a sneaking suspicion that that group was NCT. For better or worse, Don’t Call Me feels like the NCT-ification of SHINee, and that’s a little disappointing. But, this is SHINee we’re talking about. As usual, their commanding performance elevates any material they touch.

I’ll admit that Don’t Call Me is my least favorite lead single from SHINee since… I don’t even remember when. But, it’s competing against the likes of View, Good Evening, Sherlock (!), Lucifer, etc. You don’t get competition much stiffer than that. And most of my gripes come down to personal taste. These kind of “hard,” repetitive dance tracks tend to lack the nuanced funk and freewheeling groove I prefer. Don’t Call Me’s beat hits like a sledgehammer, but I wish it didn’t feel so lockstep.

On the plus side, the track’s vocal production is immaculate. Though he didn’t have a hand in composing Don’t Call Me, producer Yoo Young-Jin’s touch is all over the towering chorus. SHINee have always had one of the mightiest vocal blends in K-pop, and that rush of sound makes for a staggering centerpiece. They even manage to make the potentially obnoxious “Don’t Call Me” repetition feel engaging. The final chorus is particularly enjoyable, as that lurching hip-hop beat is augmented by sinister keys.

In the end, this is the rare SHINee comeback that leaves me totally conflicted. The song itself doesn’t feel like it was crafted with their strengths in mind, yet those strengths poke through in spite of it. It embraces some of modern SM’s worst instincts, but also harnesses the sounds that have made their artists so dominant over the past three decades. It’s not at all the kind of track that I wanted from SHINee, but my god it’s great to have them back.

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