It’s been nearly a month and a half since Shinee came back with their 5th album, 1 of 1, and in the grand tradition of SM Entertainment, it has been re-released as 1 and 1, adding 5 new songs to the original 9 tracks. While this does help fill out a frustratingly short album, the extra tracks do nothing to solve the problem that made 1 and 1 a disappointment the first time around.
This review is one of the most frustrating, difficult to write pieces I have ever undertaken. It’s not that 1 and 1 is bad. I honestly wish it was, because that would make it easier to write. Bad music gives a reviewer plenty to talk about. So does good music or weird music or experimental music or angry music or even mediocre music. But 1 and 1 is none of those things. It competently assembled, pleasant to listen to, but the end result is just . . . there. Listening to this album is like listening to beige.
If one looks at 1 and 1 on a purely technical level, there’s nothing to complain about. The 90s R&B sound is carried throughout the album, creating a cohesive theme that carries through both the original songs and new additions. The production is clean and sharp without reading as stale. The mix itself is excellent, placing emphasis where it always should be on Shinee productions: the vocals. At this point, saying that Shinee themselves delivered great performances feels redundant. It’s Shinee; since when have they done anything else? The harmonies are smooth, the high notes effortless. It’s such a shame that good vocals were wasted on this material.
The composition is what kills 1 and 1. It’s not that the songs are badly constructed, because they are perfectly decent songs. It’s that every song is completely and utterly safe. 1 and 1 is so inside the box that it’s dead center. And while playing it safe is usually seen as the cautious and sensible option, music is the one place that adage fails. No one has ever called music “safe” in a positive or even neutral way.
There are no risks on 1 and 1. The whole album is bleeding of focus groups and careful evaluation of trends in order to hit maximum sales. The problem is that the hyper-careful approach is designed to ensure no one is put off means nothing is done that could pull anyone in. There is nothing of note, because note can swing either way. The end result is 1 and 1; an album that leaves its audience unaffected at best and bored to tears at worst. The added songs make no difference to album because they are another 5 measured, analyzed, market-tested songs added to the previous nine.
The frustrating thing is that I can see where the risks could have gone. Add some rolicking guitar and bass to the chorus of “Feel Good” to provide the bombast it was building up to. Play up the desperation in “Don’t Stop” with some strings or a minor key change, or the cockiness in “U Need Me” by enhancing the horns and using them as the main feature the song is constructed around. By far, the easiest least risky risk lies with “Tell Me What To Do”: promote a legitimate ballad. The opening is powerful and heartrending, setting the stage for some waterworks and a reminder that Shinee can do anything and make it work. Yet that is shredded under the bad EDM influences that sound like a bad remix more than an original song.
Music is supposed to make its audience feel, and 1 and 1 doesn’t. The composition is so carefully measured that the whole album slides right by without notice. Nothing will offend a listener or make them skip a song, but the flipside is that it doesn’t draw anyone in or reach for the repeat function. 1 and 1, like beige, will attract neither adoration nor detraction.
(Images via SM Entertainment.)