20160124_seoulbeats_yuchun_hmldyhiyw3After watching his members (former and current alike) release solo albums, most of Park Yoo-chun’s fans wondered if he was ever going to try his hand at the musical spotlight for more than just the rare track at concerts. Finally after twelve years in the business, we’re gifted his first attempt at branching out on his own for more than just a solo spot on a group album.

From his days in DBSK, Yoochun has been wary of releasing his music, confessing his composing and songwriting process is almost painstakingly slow — constantly revising his compositions, adjusting lyrics to fit music, music to fit lyrics and possible instrumentations, etc. It’s then safe to assume each track on this album has a purpose and was picked with care.

How Much Love Do You Have in Your Wallet opens with a mesmerizing piano instrumental from Japanese pianist Yuhki Kuramoto, an artist Yoochun confessed in past interviews he’s fond of. “Album, Full of Memories…” sets the pace and inevitably the theme of the mini. Indeed, the title defines what’s become much of Yoochun’s attitude toward life: the unpacking of his memories and how they’ve shaped who he is.

Memories give us opportunities for reflection. With “Unwound Heart,” we’re given our first glimpse into Yoochun’s introspection. His voice is surprisingly soulful, even in the simplicity of his husky baritone. There’s incredible warmth and sincerity in the music and sway of his voice as it winds through the notes. The lyrics, though a bit mournful, are thoughtful. He ponders the memories of a relationship he remembers as full of lost opportunities whose shadows still linger. After all the time that’s passed, he still misses that special someone for whom he finds great significance in the small things:

That place you said you wanted to go to
The small sweet cake
You said you wanted to eat
The many vague hours
(We) decided to spend together
They are all still waiting for us

From reflective melancholy to acceptance. With a story about a dream he had, it became obvious the album’s title was about Yoochun’s late father. He admits to regretting missed opportunities to become closer to the man he’d had a rocky relationship with, this album being at once a love note and a reconciliation.

The title track, however, has broader scope, the lyrics as well as the emotional composition another expression of Yoochun’s maturation. He accepts that “life doesn’t always go the way we want it to,” but despite disappointments and unexpected outcomes, “it’s okay even if it isn’t perfect. That’s just how life is for us all.” There is pain, yes. There are setbacks, sure. We all share those moments of missed opportunities and painful loss, but we survive and live on to smile another day.

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With more reflection comes the hope of a bright future in song “Until the Last Album.” Yoochun has expressed that he feels blessed that he’s been able to share this time with the fans who’ve never stopped believing in him or his band mates:

Having you (all) beside me
Those memories of tears and laughs too are unchangeably, always there
Instead of (thinking about) the road that becomes farther and farther
(I) think about us becoming even closer.

There’s exceptional joy in the song. The composition is bright and acts as an extension of his love and appreciation of those who’ve never left his side; he promises to always greet them with happiness and the love they’ve shown him: “The far day in the future when we meet again, I will embrace you like I did when I met you yesterday.” The added prettiness of singer and actress Yozoh lends the song more of its brightness and sparkling optimism.

The album closes with a live version of a song that’s become a staple at concerts and fan meetings, “Walking With Her in Spring.” Lyrically it’s a beautiful love song, imploring the love of his life to always stay by his side “if I say the words ‘I love you’ once again.” It’s a lovely track, both in composition and Yoochun’s delivery. However, it’s unfortunate fans didn’t get a studio version, especially considering there are only three studio songs on the mini.

20160124_seoulbeats_yuchun_hmldyhiyw5As with his former band mate, Jung Yun-ho, I’m not 100 percent convinced of Yoochun as a solo singer. He has a tendency to sing through his nose, thus notes in his middle register are a bit nasally. When reaching for more power, he opens his throat, giving the vocal more body and allowing the rugged prettiness of his tenor full expression. He seems comfortable in the lower end of his range, not actually having to do much to get down low when sitting in the bass, and he can pull higher notes out of the air (as proofed by the lovely sustained higher note in the chorus of the live version of “Walking With Her in Spring”). But I’m sad and a bit unhappy to say he tends to stay in the middle most of the time.

His vocal weakness also means he doesn’t have a great range. He’s steady in his head voice, throaty and warm in his lower register, but a bit unbalanced in the tenor. So while his tone itself is distinct, his voice is a bit forgettable if you’re not a fan of his or appreciate the levels of his gruff baritone or mid-to-high growl.

However, what he lacks vocally he more than compensates for with haunting emotional depth and an elegant ear for music — not bad for a self-trained pianist who can’t read music. Lyrically, anything he writes is laced with the sort of emotion that comes from severe heartbreak and painful experience. His musical maturity has always been quite surprising for someone so young. After turning thirty, he’s had time to ponder and then nurture his perspective on life, and it shows in the scope of his lyricism.

That being said, I wanted something… more from Yoochun, especially musically. For someone who is meticulous in his song crafting and deliberate in his musical choices, his solo debut lacked variety. His lyrics were written with intent, and there is a definitive narrative arc to this five-track mini; however, there’s a noticeable uniformity that makes How Much Love… a bit one-note. I can’t necessarily fault Yoochun for that, especially when his actual compositions and songwriting are truly beautiful.

20160124_seoulbeats_yuchun_hmldyhiyw2But the fan in me is disappointed he didn’t push for more, or at the very least feel confident enough to unveil more of his work with his debut effort, as if playing it safe to avoid heavy criticism. In building his narrative (and possibly holding back), however, he may have alienated those who aren’t so keen on ballad and slow-tempo heavy albums. So if your main appreciation of Yoochun happens to be his uptempo repertoire or his rapping, this album won’t be for you.

While How Much Love… is lyrically beautiful, musically I was left wanting. The compositions are good, but very similar. It’s definitely an album you put on for contemplation and to let the music wash over you. How Much Love… expresses Yoochun’s mixed emotions about life, and that’s the feeling I’m ultimately left with — loving the narrative, the lyricism, and the composition but left a bit cold by the overall lack of variety and actual tracks.

Album Rating: 3.75/5

(Images via C-Jes, YouTube, My Love TVXQ)