Gaya: SHINee‘s back! Though this comeback has been more subdued due to Jonghyun‘s injury — to the extent that some netizens are complaining about a lack of media play — and not everyone is impressed with the title track and its MV, there is still something to look forward to: nine brand new songs packaged into the group’s newest full length album with the appropriately lengthy title, (Chapter 2) Why So Serious? – The Misconceptions of Me, which just debuted at #1 on Billboard‘s World Album chart.
I’ve already given my opinion on Chapter 1 of this double album, but Ambika, what are your thoughts on it?
Ambika: Chapter 1 was an album that grew on me. The tracks seemed to fit SHINee’s image really well; this type of upbeat, soft, electro mix. I don’t think it’s as good as some of the previous albums of the group (The SHINee World or Lucifer), but it was okay. What excited me more than any of the songs was this idea of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 complementing each other in some way. For example, when I learned that “Spoiler” from Chapter 1 actually had all the song titles for both Chapters in it, I was impressed. Clearly this pair of albums had some decent amount of thought put into them.
Gaya: The album starts off with a surprise in “Nightmare.” This song is screaming supernatural, with the autotuned vocals and “wooo” sound effects throughout the chorus and bridge; the lyrics also continue with references to vampires. “Come and dream a dream, girl…” Apart from that hook, Taemin at the start of the bridge is what really captured me. The exaggerated rasp of his voice just made that part. Other highlights of the song included the drop in the instrumental just before the second chorus, it added an unexpected but not unwelcome element to the song. “Nightmare” is dirty yet surprisingly restrained, juxtaposing with the title track.
Ambika: Off the bat, I liked how different “Nightmare” was from Chapter 1; it was a good surprise. I also enjoyed the twist on “Dream Girl” from the previous album; it’s not every day your dream girl turns out to be a vampire. And I fully agree with you on Taemin’s voice.
“Why So Serious” is clearly the least put-together song of the bunch. If it was separated into a couple of parts, most notably taking the chorus away from the rest, it sounds like it could have improved dramatically. The attempt at following through with a rock song was a good thought, but it ended up as this pop rock deviant that runs along the lines of a showtune, a bit like “Sherlock.” It’s great on stage though, I’ll give them that. Also, running with the zombie theme and carrying it throughout the lyrics in this playful manner was completely unexpected and innovative. The reference to Romeo and Juliet was a little ambiguous, but after some puzzling, it eventually made sense: Romeo and Juliet is brought up as a point of comparison, implying with the next lines “It’s not a sad story/ Everything will be all right” that there was no reason to be sad for their zombie/human state, like in the tragedy.
Gaya: “Why So Serious” is about zombies, and “Nightmare” is about vampires… This mixing of supernatural creatures isn’t really what I want; I wonder if there are songs about orges and centaurs on here too…
Ambika: I actually liked the thought of having an album referencing supernatural creatures. If every song referred to some type of creature, it would be interesting to read the lyrics that would come out, and see the effects in the singing, when done tastefully of course.
Gaya: The album returns to actually being serious with “SHINe (Medusa I):” AKA the song that reminds me of 1st generation K-pop, especially when the chorus hits. Teddy Riley is one of the producers for this song, which could go a way to explaining this. The lyrics liken the listener to a brilliant light; “SHINin’ in the East, SHINin’ in the West” are not lyrics that can be easily overcome, but SHINee manages to bring back most of the attention to their vocals and execution, which helps because “SHINe” as a song is a tad too dramatic for its own good.
Ambika: It’s good that the SHINin’ was limited to two directions; had they gone for a set of four, I might have had to skip the track. I agree that it’s a familiar-sounding song. It’s that safe track that doesn’t particularly add to the album and comes close to dragging.
If there’s a track that merits attention on this album, it’s “Orgel.” The music is light and delicate to match the title, and the repetition keeps the song rotating around itself, relying on the vocalists to bring the song to greater heights. And SHINee pulls through. The exchange of lines back and forth mimics the rotation and keeps the vocals flowing. The members hold their notes and let them slowly fade off in time for another member to chime in. Minho‘s rap is even fitting here, coming across as a faint echo within the box. As the song approaches the end, the layering of voices increases before dying off, letting most of the members have their time for expression between the consistent chorus lines. The song’s highlight is in its pure musicality. The tones and the voices all blend together as instruments to create this constant tinkling that rotates in on itself.
Gaya: “Orgel” was the most pleasant surprise for me; I was expecting the music to be like the delicate chiming one generally associates with a music box, but I loved how the instrumental here was actually deeper in tone and added to the sinister feel.
Teddy Riley was also involved in the second Medusa song, “Dangerous (Medusa II).” This sounds more futuristic, with a funk twist. This is definitely one of my favourite tracks; there’s something about its steady beat and how the members voices suit it. I also love the rap, because it doesn’t ask much of Minho in terms of flow. He can work with a beat, though, and you can see that here. The most interesting part for me were the lyrics, because they allowed me to make a bit more sense of “SHINe.” There’s still talk of lights, but where SHINee is seeing you from afar in “Medusa I,” in “Medusa II” they are closer up and realise that not everything is as benevolent as it seems… hence the name “Medusa.” Lyrics of looking into the girl’s eyes and being caught in place further reinforce this theme.
Ambika: Yes, to the connection between “SHINe” and “Dangerous.” I think it’s just so nice when elements of the album connect well with one another.
“Like a Fire” is another one of those gems in the album. The throwback to some better R&B days really suits Onew and Jonghyun’s voices (If you need convincing, I direct you to 2:55 and after). The lyrics in the chorus are emphasized just a tad before the actual beat, adding that bit of funk to the song. The overall crooning is mostly expressive, though in some areas falls a little flat of its potential. What is fantastically welcome is the absence of a rap. Too often are raps unnecessarily added for the sake of just having one. The lyrics here predictably compare the intensity of love to that of a fire, which makes some of the lacking passion more obvious.
Gaya: I absolutely love the minimalistic pre-chorus in “Like A Fire,” with just an electric guitar and the members’ hushed murmurs. Even with the lack of build-up it manages to maintain interest and successfully lead into the chorus.
“Excuse Me Miss” is the cheekiest little song; they take a step up from talking about the fairer gender in “Girls, Girls, Girls,” to actually talking to a girl, attempting to propose to her with sweet, sweet words of love — and mentions of chocolate (good job, Onew). The members sound great as usual (though there are noticeable instances of Minho’s singing voice being manipulated), but Jonghyun was the stand-out for me — it may well be a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, but I thought “Excuse Me Miss” fit both his voice and his persona to a tee. I also loved the lightness of the song, with its minimal R&B beat and higher-pitched vocals. The only down side was the rap, which was too long and monotonous. I couldn’t even tell when Minho’s lines ended and Key‘s had begun.
Ambika: “Excuse Me Miss” has that lighter touch to the album. Perhaps because Jonghyun is physically not present in performances, I find myself paying extra attention to his voice, and he really brings this song together.
The penultimate track, “Evil,” returns to that nightmare vs. dream situation established with “Nightmare” from this album and “Dream Girl” from the previous. Except this time, the nightmare comes in the form of this evil, poisonous snake (metaphorically) and the ensuing mental torments. What’s interesting about the track is the mention of this pressure or weight in the lyrics that is translated into the song’s impact. For example, most of the song spreads the vocals individually, but there are instances of more intense layering with this taunting tone. The music of the chorus itself builds before backing off into a thudding heartbeat, reflecting the nervous and dangerous situation. There are also multiple pounding sounds that grow in intensity when in succession, also increasing this “weight” on the listener. In creating this sense of evil on all sides and coming closer, “Evil” is similar to “Orgel,” minus the rotation.
Gaya: “Evil” is a strong and forceful song, and I agree that you can “feel” it. I also am slightly upset that they weren’t actually singing about beavers like I’d first believed, but I guess you can’t have it all.
Chapter 2 closes with ballad “Sleepless Night,” which funnily enough was the first song of this comeback to be heard in full, from when SHINee performed it at their “Music Spoiler” showcase for Chapter 1. Penned by one Shim Changmin, the lyrics leave behind all the supernatural imagery to speak plainly of longing and loneliness. Normally, these kinds of lyrics would be stock standard, but following all the at times laboured metaphors in the previous tracks, it’s like a breath of the freshest air. This song also exemplifies the restraint seen throughout the album — the vocal gymnastics aren’t too excessive and the classical instrumentation is clean, simple and structured. It could almost be over-produced, but there is still a natural flow to the piece. I loved the way the vocals slightly overlapped, and each member got the chance to shine in this piece.
Ambika: “Sleepless Night” is a really soothing way to end the album and it shows off the group’s maturity.
Chapter 2 exceeded my expectations. Then again, they were lower than normal after hearing Chapter 1. The album’s title track doesn’t do the rest of the album any justice, which is unfortunate. I have to say, overall, Taemin’s improvement has me astounded. It was clear he was getting better with his stint on Immortal Song 2 and his steadily increasing number of lines, but I hadn’t expected his voice to have gotten as good at it is. The older members are similarly more expressive, even Minho with his ‘unique’ rapping.
Gaya: I completely agree with you, Ambika, Chapter 2 is definitely a better album than I expected it to be. I loved hearing all the falsetto notes sprinkled throughout, as well as the improvements in each of the members’ singing (Taemin being the most noticeable here, and you have to appreciate Minho’s ability to keep up with the rest of his exceptional group mates). I would honestly recommend this album to everyone: there are people who find SHINee too loud for their liking, too “shouty” — which is a completely valid observation as booming vocals are one of their identifying characteristcs — and they might like this album, which I find to be a mostly restrained piece of work.
Hopefully, this The Misconceptions of Me changes some misconceptions people have of SHINee and their music. I’m giving this album a 4.2 out of 5. How about you Ambika?
Ambika: That sounds about right. The creative direction of this album is good, and it produced some gems to add to SHINee’s repertoire.