Super Junior came a really long way from their debut in 2005. Seven years is an extensive period of time — especially after considering this is K-pop we’re talking about — and for Super Junior to keep relevance all throughout those seven years is something to be applauded. A lot of things happened to Super Junior during their time as idols, and they sure went through a lot of changes as a group over the years. They gained new members, lost some others, recently gained one back in the form of Kangin, and created new sub-groups. They faced scandal after scandal and each member was able to branch out and start their own individual career in their field of choice whether it was in music, acting, or hosting. Whatever it was, Super Junior overcame it, and they eventually became one of the biggest and most renowned names–or more accurately, brand– in K-pop
Even musically and conceptually, I’d like to say Super Junior also changed a lot from their “U” days. They went the aegyo route with “Happiness” and “No Other,” tried a rougher image with “Don’t Don,” and went through my favorite era of theirs to date with “It’s You.” However, following their mega-hit with “Sorry Sorry” in 2009, it seemed that Super Junior stopped growing musically.
It seemed like SM Entertainment stopped trying with Super Junior after that point, as basically every single they released afterwards ended up being a rehash or another version of the jackpot that was “Sorry Sorry,” evidenced with “Bonamana” and “Mr. Simple.” Super Junior’s potential as performers wasn’t being tapped into with these Autotune-heavy, messy, electronic songs, and their quality gradually took a plunge.
But with all the severe changes going on to Super Junior in the dreadfully near future, this next effort would be crucial in seeing if Super Junior is here to stay even longer. Nabeela pointed out that Super Junior would need to go beyond what they’ve been giving us for the past few years and experiment a bit with their sound, giving us something new.
I admit that when I first heard that Sexy, Free, and Single would be the name of the album and lead track, I was scared of what was to come. I expected another version of “Sorry Sorry” or a rehash of “Mr. Simple” and not much growth from Super Junior. The androgynous concept pictures and the supposed “beautiful men” concept didn’t really help soothe my fears either, only intensifying them. What I did find, however, pleasantly defied my expectations, but still left me feeling a little bit dissatisfied.
1. “Sexy, Free, and Single”
The album starts off with its title track, “Sexy, Free, and Single.” Described as R&B and House inspired, those influences can clearly be heard in this track. Stable synths and a fluid melody create an interesting listen that’s cleaner in production than Super Junior’s previous singles. It lacks the repetitive and oftentimes strident electronic beats present in “Mr. Simple” and in all, creates a more enthralling song. However, while this track is stronger than its precedents, it’s still very much flawed.
The verses are executed amazingly with pretty charismatic vocals from the boys of Super Junior and the pre-chorus that follows is simply glorious. While the chorus of the song is a bit undefined, it’s not at all lacking either, and the middle-eight full of superb vocal runs was memorable to say the least. Where this song is lacking, however, is in its hook, which is unfortunately the most crucial part of a K-pop song. The transitions present in the bridges build up a heat, hinting at a climax, but all that heat ends up sizzling with the start of the monotonous, chant-like hook that fails to be engaging. Because of this weak hook, the song falls short as a lead single. It makes the song lose a bit of cohesion and structure, making it not as attention-grabbing as it could be.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWIkiI_UmeE&w=560&h=315]
2. “From U”
R&B and Super Junior tend to mix very well, as evidenced with second track, “From U.” A song dedicated to their fan-club ELF, this song is a treat for ELFs and non-ELFs alike. Super Junior’s confident vocals are complimented by a pleasant, laid-back instrumental that makes the album’s strongest and most consistent track.
After hearing “From U,” I admit my hopes were up for this album. However, when next song “Gulliver” started playing, my hopes, as well as the quality of this album, started falling. The chanting that started the track off and also present throughout the entirety of the song became repetitive and grating pretty fast. The execution was similarly lacking as well, with the sing-song rapping just not doing it as it lacked the energy so synonymous with Super Junior. While Ryeowook’s vocals were strong as usual, his belting was one of many random additions to this song and was ultimately out of place.
Also, the instrumental of the track ended up being very messy. There were random changes in tempo and unexpected and unfitting sounds present, as well as a segment in the end where the instrumental completely changes into something else, which turned this song an odd piece to listen to. Experimentation can clearly be heard, but this piece pushed the envelope too much. While the lyrics written by Eunhyuk comparing Super Junior to the tale of Gulliver was admittedly clever, the song’s production was unorganized and inconsistent.
The next track of the album is “Someday,” a remake of Lee Sang-eun’s song of the same name and a ballad. Super Junior’s ballads aren’t particularly bad per se as there are some amazing and emotive vocalists in the group, but most lack something memorable to set them apart. This song is one of those songs that lack that little spark. Super Junior — as expected with vocalists like Yesung, Kyuhyun, and Ryeowook — sounded great, and the orchestral instrumental was fascinating as well. But as great as both sounded, neither was especially noteworthy or memorable, though that section towards the bridge where the vocals and instrumental pick up had so much potential to head somewhere grand. But unfortunately, while a very pretty listen, the song just sort of goes through you, leaving you with a pleasant, yet unsatisfied aftertaste.
Following “Someday,” is “NOW,” an up-beat song with very summery vibes. “NOW” is very light and mellow, with clear pop-rock inspirations, and while it’s an enjoyable listen, it’s also somewhat anticlimactic. The whistling was an interesting and addicting addition that worked well with the guitar, but in all, this track is hard not to classify as filler.
While “NOW” could be considered generic, next track “Rockstar” is far from that. This track is very, very memorable, but whether that’s a good thing or not is still out there. There are very silly and outgoing sounds in “Rockstar” accompanied by a pretty engaging, faster beat. Furthermore, the execution is similarly fun. Unlike “Gulliver” where the boys were taking themselves too seriously and lacking energy, in “Rockstar,” it’s very clear that they were enjoying this song, just acting like themselves. Admittedly, the song does get obnoxious at moments and the chorus is
somewhat (very) embarrassing to listen to, but it’s very reminiscent of LMFAO’s music in that way. This song would probably end up being a fan-favorite between ELFs, and has potential to be a guilty pleasure for everyone else willing to stop thinking for a few moments and enjoy the nonsense.
Next track “Bittersweet,” admittedly left me with bittersweet feelings. While KRY and
this author’s bias Sungmin sounded fine as usual, the track itself just doesn’t head anywhere. There was pretty good buildup in the beginning, and the soft, whisper-like vocals of the boys along with the simpler instrumental were very fitting for the calmer ambiance in the song. But nothing in particular could be considered that outstanding or noteworthy, leaving it much like “Someday” in the way that it makes a pleasant listen, but just passes through you in the end.
“Butterfly” had a pretty promising opening. The high energy, interesting instrumental in the beginning was very appealing and the verses at the start weren’t shabby either. The instrumental and the vocals were full of the personality and the high energy this album needed, and the hook, while still containing chanting, was a lot more inviting than previous songs. But somewhere in the context of the song, it just falls apart. Towards the end, the synths became a bit too overpowering, and the dubstep break was definitely not an invited addition. Once again, it seemed like this track wanted to go somewhere, but ended up somewhat directionless in the end.
While another ballad, “Daydream” ended up being a lot more interesting and charming than the other ballads in the album. The simple piano and clear beats helped maintain a dreamlike ambiance, and the vocals were similarly soft and comforting. The bridge was a feast for the ears, and the harmonized chorus was actually memorable, the use of the line “eotteoke” trying everything neatly together.
10. “A ‘Good’ Bye”
The last track of the album is “A ‘Good’ Bye.” While yet another ballad, this song had a bit more spark that made it more distinct than the rest. While the verses were standard fare, being quiet and gentle, the tempo suddenly hastens in the chorus, creating a whimsical, fleeting feel. Admittedly though, the faster-paced chorus is a lot more intriguing than the verses, but little details like the graceful string instruments and the ticking of the clock keep the song as a whole more interesting. Being the last song of the album, “A ’Good’ Bye” was a pretty satisfying closer, leaving listeners with an interesting albeit fleeting note.
Overall, while the album was a very decent and acceptable effort, it was a bit underwhelming. One would expect more for Super Junior as this is their sixth album and their seventh year as performers. Much like many of the songs, the album seemed to be going somewhere and had so much potential to be grand but ended up seeming a bit directionless at the end of it all.
While Super Junior (thankfully) escaped the Autotune curse in their previous singles and managed to surprise us with a few of these songs in the album, the end product was still a bit lacking. Experimentation can definitely be heard in some of these tracks, and while some of them didn’t turn out as well as they could be, they were at least different and something for Super Junior to learn from. However, in certain segments and songs, Super Junior played it very safe but still sold it as experimentation, when in truth, it wasn’t experimentation at all. Super Junior should be willing to take risks at this point in their career, and while a few were actually made, the boys and SM need to be a bit more fearless.
Another point to talk about is the abundance of ballads in this album. In a relatively small ten-tracked album, four of the songs were ballads. Like I mentioned before, while Super Junior’s ballads are acceptable and pretty as their vocalists have enough merits to carry them flawlessly, they aren’t exactly memorable. It would have been wiser to trade in one or two of those ballads for faster paced songs as the upbeat songs actually present were a bit disappointing and inconsistent. Ballads are generally added to highlight the vocal capabilities of some of the members and while these ballads fulfilled that purpose, Super Junior also has the KRY sub-group with the same purpose, making the addition of these songs in this album useless.
Ultimately, while this album was admittedly a bit underwhelming considering Super Junior’s experience, it was a pretty good effort and enough to keep Super Junior moving forward rather than back. With all the inevitable changes coming up for Super Junior as more and more members are due to enlist, I consider this album as a gift for the fans to remember what the Super Junior of now was like.
Recommended: “From U” and “Daydream”
Worth a Listen: “Bittersweet,” “A ‘Good’ Bye,” and “Sexy, Free, and Single”
Weakest Link: “Gulliver”
Guilty Pleasure: “Rockstar”
In the end, Sexy, Free, and Single gets a 3.1/5. What do you think Seoulmates? Did you think Super Junior was sexy, free, and single? Or did you think this album was a mess? Leave your thoughts and more!
(SM Entertainment, Nate, AsianDreamAudio2)