20131025_seoulbeats_shinee_minhoIt’s safe to say that SHINee has had an action-packed year. Two album promotions in Korea with ongoing promotions of a Japanese album squeezed in between is a lot of work for a K-pop group in one year.

Perhaps this is why the announcement of the mini-album Everybody surprised many a Shawol. Yet here we are, another SHINee album.

The absence of heavy concept with the album makes Everybody stand out from its predecessors, the Misconceptions set. Both albums had themes guiding the tracks, but Everybody abandons this trope and goes for the grab-bag approach, drawing closer relation to Lucifer in terms of song variety.

One feature, however, unites all of the songs on Everybody, and that is the heavy electronic backing on all of the tracks. I roll my eyes at the “complextro” concept that the single “Everybody” presented, but there are in fact a wide assortment of very complex beats to the songs on the album, some of which work well and others that miss the mark.

The album opens with the title track Everybody,” which seems almost unfair to evaluate sans choreography, which is the key point of the song as Lindsay pointed out in the music video review. The song is techno and dubstep heavy, with lots of empty space as far as lyrics go. “Everybody” indeed doesn’t have much to say besides, well, the word, but for a song loaded with the whizzing and buzzing of dubstep, the transitions are nearly seamless.

Each sonic section is woven together elegantly with the rest, and the song ends up building in intensity despite the chorus’s repetition of the same word over and over. Somehow, the song doesn’t manage to drone on quite as much as it probably should, although it is a one-mood dance track.

The absence of rap is an extremely good thing, especially since the beat would have provided for a quick rap-insert after the bridge. Minho joining in on more of the singing provides more balance in the song, and the use of Onew’s voice for the “Everybody, wake up” intro and outro is a nice touch. However divisive it is as the single, “Everybody” functions as it was designed to and comes off as slightly impersonal as a song.

Next is “Symptoms,” one of the shining stars of the album and possibly a top-charter in rankings of SHINee’s best showings. The song has a phenomenal start with Jonghyun’s first line, which carries the perfect tone of despair that the lyrics he penned allude to.

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The beat is soft on the verses, nearly an afterthought to the heavy emoting heard vocally, until it explodes into the electronic mid-tempo beat for the chorus, after which the song recedes back to the soft tones it started with.

The pacing still feels just right with “Symptoms” and the roadmap of the song matches the ups and downs of the speaker’s emotions over the lover he desperately needs to return to him. All five members give strong vocal performances, offering better balance than in albums past and indicating growth in vocal abilities.

The fact that SM Entertainment has uniquely highlighted the song along with “Everybody” during promotions is very encouraging, as it’s far from being the typical ballad that SHINee occasionally showcases. Despite the electronic elements, the song keeps its roots in rhythm and blues.

Produced by The Underdogs, whom have contributed to the discographies of a large cohort of highly well-known R&B artists, put their talents to use with SHINee. For fans of The SHINee World and Romeo that love SHINee’s more soulful moments, “Symptoms” is a great return to the past while still being consistent with their current identity.

“Queen of New York” is one of the album’s great surprises. What begins as a heavy beat with Super Junior-esqe talk-rapping turns into a funky tune with the electric vibe that only a song about love in the big city could provide. Key really shines in this song and gets to show off a little with vocals in some of his parts.

The song is reminiscent of the alleged “acid electro-funk” of Misconceptions of You, but with a much needed update. The song is fresh-sounding, catchy, and the added sound effects in the song aren’t overbearing as they tend to be in SHINee songs. “Queen of New York” has a lot of attitude and does a great job of setting the mood of the lyrics.

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But, if “Queen of New York” was a pleasant surprise, “One Minute Back” was a complete surprise. With the breathy sounds and boyish bravado, it initially comes off as a mature and sophisticated version of “Get It” from Lucifer. The beat is purposefully inconsistent and the first listen is a test in keeping up with all of the dizzying transitions.

“One Minute Back” discusses a man seeing his love interest with another man and wishing he could rewind back to before he knew, but the song doesn’t rest on a sad tone, although the bridge gives the song a brief ballad moment, carried decently by Onew and Taemin.

The song feels overly loud, but there are great moments: the first drop of the beat coupled with breathy accents, the unison parts in the verses, and the quick harmonization moment after the first chorus are some standouts. “One Minute Back” has a very experimental sound, but somehow it all works out alright, finding some nexus point between sexy, sensual, and sentimental.

“Destination” unfortunately falls flat for me. The song begins with a fair amount of drama, coupling handclaps and drums, but ends up far too sing-song. The series of “na-na-na’s” , which never fail to be catchy, are disappointing. They slow the song down after the chorus and seem like a cop-out from more content.

The bridge is the song’s highlight, although Jonghyun’s high note, as usual, sounds out of his range and just too high. The strain is cringeworthy, but SHINee has not outgrown the SM policy on high notes. The lyrics, however, do feel sincere, discussing the quest to find the right path in life in spite of uncertainty.

“Close the Door” is perhaps the closest thing to a classic ballad on the album. The song has a dreamy vibe, with soft singing and orchestra accompaniment, but ends up daringly close to being dull. There’s barely any heavy vocal lifting on the song, and pacing is even and slow, although not in an unpleasant way.

I could take this opportunity to complain about Minho’s rapping in the song, but I won’t. Minho’s mellow ballad-rapping is typically okay to good (see “Alarm Clock” and “Sleepless Nights” as examples); he definitely doesn’t deserve any ranting for his delivery in “Close the Door” which is notably brief.

Onew and Jonghyun wrap up the song well, and it all brings back great memories of when they used to duet more often. It’s a shame that the song ends on that note, as that’s where it really picks up momentum.20131011_seoulbeats_SHINee4

And, lastly, “Colorful” rounds out the album. Underneath all of the twinkling sounds and driving drum beat, is a techno beat that is irresistibly cheerful and reminiscent of an 8-bit video game. One of the more uplifting songs in SHINee’s discography, “Colorful” praises someone’s ability to bring light and joy to the speaker’s life.

Despite that, there are lines that stick out for the wrong reasons, especially Key’s line of “Be my favorite color pink, give me a wink.” Overall, it’s maybe just too hard to deny this song’s spirit. “Colorful” grows on you, but relative to the entire album, it fails to stand out.

It’s hard to place Everybody as an album. While it does have a few strong songs, one has to wonder if Everybody was a well-thought out project. The Misconceptions albums were a great collective moment for SHINee in that they had a cohesive musical idea for the first time in a long, long time.

Alternatively, this latest installment is caught up in a mix of SHINee’s styles from past and present, but they’re strengthened by the group’s obvious maturation and constant improvement.

So maybe Everybody isn’t a transformative album. There are certainly other albums in SHINee’s resume that accomplished this. The mini-album is perhaps just okay, especially when compared to the other highlights of SHINee’s busy year.

The strong points – “Symptoms,” “Queen of New York,” and likely “One Minute Back” – definitely do the album a great deal of service though, which earns Everybody a 3.8 out of 5 as hopefully SHINee’s last effort of the year.

I say they’ve earned a break, what about you?

 

(Images via SM Entertainment, YouTube [1][2][3][4][]