DBSK, one of K-pop’s most legendary acts, has recently come back to the idol scene with album Catch Me, over a year and a half after their last Korean effort with Keep Your Head Down. As one of K-pop’s biggest, oldest, and most renowned acts, saying their return was met with lots of fanfare is a huge understatement, as many were out to see if the legendary DBSK, literally “The Rising Gods of the East,” could keep up with their prestigious brand and title. As their company, SM Entertainment, is surprisingly on a roll this year judging from the surprising quality of their acts’ previous efforts, many including this writer were curious as to whether this string of good releases would carry over to what is arguably the company’s biggest act. Well, let’s get this review started to find out, shall we?
1. “Catch Me”
The first song on the album is “Catch Me” which also serves as the duo’s lead single. Okay, first of all, as a disclaimer, let me clarify my utter distaste of dubstep, particularly dubstep in K-pop. The style of music as a whole is just not my cup of tea, and its (mis)application in K-pop made my perception on the genre all the more unfavorable. So when I heard that DBSK was going to embrace the world of dubstep and dance music, I was already prepared to dislike this release. I was expecting a generic and grating dance piece barren of DBSK’s signature sound that simply served as a lackluster attempt to catch up with today’s recent trends for a more radio-friendly and “universally appealing” release. The MV teaser really didn’t help as not only were the outfits hideous, but Yunho and Changmin looked like they were trying too hard to appear cool by modern-day’s standards, rather than employing their signature confidence.
So can you imagine my utter surprise when I actually ended up liking the piece? Don’t get me wrong; I still hate the obnoxiously long dubstep loop generously employed throughout, among other little flaws that disturbed my appreciation of the song. But looking at the song as a whole, it proved to be a very interesting and invigorating listen. The piano intro and all the slight traces of real orchestral instruments were brilliant applications, significant against the dynamic J-pop inspired, techno beat. Furthermore, while I still don’t approve of how K-pop is using dubstep and I’d much rather listen to Yunho and Changmin singing rather than listen to a dubstep break, the use of it in this song was actually masterful, giving the song layered depth and pleasant contrasts. For example, the change from the urgent intro to the monotone dubstep was a goosebump-inducing change in pace and the dubstep in Yunho’s (badass) rap break gave it some necessary focus, keeping the segment from being easily forgotten.
And as for the vocals, what can I say? Even as a duo, DBSK still has some of the more potent voices in K-pop, able to compensate the lack of a median vocal to a degree, coming a long way from their debut days. While there are clear holes in the duo’s plan of having Changmin handle the high notes and Yunho the low ones, not only this song but the entire album in general is able to make those holes less apparent through the use of more fluid songs or more electronic songs that call on extremes. The instrumental itself has a lot going on — to the point where it could be considered obnoxious how many influences and sounds are employed in one song. Fortunately, Changmin and Yunho don’t lag as much as one may expect as they stay afloat in the sea of synths and instrumentals. Their confidence and conviction in singing both the chorus and verses makes the song all the more enjoyable, keeping the potentially tiring instrumental from getting boring or jarring and keeping the transition from the two sections fluid. Moreover, the elongated notes sound divine, and I haven’t even begun to talk about how glorious the harmonization is. Even if it wasn’t the most innovating of listens, in a song with such an obnoxiously dynamic instrumental, DBSK’s vocals still remain the focus, and that’s something I really appreciate.
“Viva” follows the title track and album’s suggested diversity to show that it’s something different from anything DBSK has done before. I was pumped after hearing the epic guitar riffs and ominous percussion. However, Yunho’s rap that followed certainly didn’t resonate well with me. The first verse and the transition to the first chorus couldn’t really recover the pace either, leaving the beginning half of this song somewhat sloppy and disjointed. However, the song starts to settle in by the start of the more fluidly-transitioned second verse, and the sultry yet laid back sound of the song fully starts to shine. There’s a sense of careless confidence that comes forth with the fluid vocals and rapping, and this is further highlighted through the sassy percussion as well as admittedly sparingly used dubstep beats. It wasn’t something I was expecting from DBSK, and while it’s also flawed, once again as a whole, it’s an interesting listen that experiments with the duo’s capabilities and versatility.
The next song in the album is mid-tempo “Destiny.” Something of note on this album is its abundance of mid-tempos and ballads, a recurring theme with most of DBSK’s compilations. I’m not usually an avid fan of SM Entertainment’s ballads as despite the vocally potent singers that sing the pretty tunes, most turn out as pretty listens but ultimately segue towards forgottenness. However, there are a few golden exceptions when a ballad from SM turns out incredibly notable, usually due to an innovative or more refreshing sound to separate it from all the other slower tracks. Thankfully, most of the ballads in this album lean towards the latter, “Destiny” included. Featuring an old-school and very sensual R&B beat, the laid back song soars through Yunho and Changmin’s passionate execution. The stable drum beat gives the song a grounded feel despite the airy vocals, and the fluid feel in particular puts less emphasis on the nasal aspect of Changmin’s voice, keeping it pleasant overall. My only complaint is the suddenness from verse to chorus, which for me, interrupted the flow of an otherwise very chill and relaxed song.
4. “Like a Soap”
Contrary to what I was expecting from this track with the very silly title, “Like A Soap” turned out pleasantly. The upbeat tone and light uses of acoustic, and later electric guitar, make a very melodic and energetic listen. While I definitely prefer the more relaxed and serene verses over the loud chorus, the harmonization in the latter is still a treat to the ears. Although the duo can come across too light and airy, with falsettos sounding more shrill than was probably intended, they are generally satisfying. “Like A Soap” has a very clear pop sound, and while it’s very predictable and treads on OST territory, it’s still an uplifting tune. Sure it could be considered filler, but if so, it would be good filler, pleasant and always ready for another listen to look back on.
5.”I Don’t Know” (Korean Version)
DBSK decided to release a remake of their previous “I Don’t Know” from their Japanese Tone album. The original being one of my favorites in Tone, unfortunately, makes me partial to the Japanese version. Some negative points on this rendition are the sloppy Japanese to Korean translations, the slightly tiring sound as well as Changmin’s weirdly unpleasant execution. However, the chorus still stays as glorious as ever, and the song’s gritty sound really works well with the rest of the album.
Next song “Dream” is definitely the most upbeat and energetic out of the album. It could even be perfect for an anime opening or a J-dorama OST. While I definitely love the peppy sound and exhilarating vocals, the song really isn’t anything new for K-pop, and it definitely isn’t meant to be sold as experimentation. On that front, it’s different and relatively forgettable compared to the other offerings. Nevertheless, with its delightful instrumentals and guitar riffs, the song has proven itself to be a refreshing change of pace.
7. “How Are You”
Unfortunately, like the song that precedes it, “How Are You” doesn’t present anything that new either. It’s a pretty ballad, but doesn’t go beyond staying very sweet albeit with little substance or spark. That being said, while ultimately forgettable, it does have its redeeming qualities. For one, the harmonization was absolutely top class, and the use of strings well-created a romantic lilt. Personally, the bridge of the song was also a highlight, though it could’ve done with a bit of an extension for a more impactful and impressionable experience.
While “How Are You” proved to be forgettable, next track “Getaway” is definitely one I’ll have on the back of my mind. The song goes full-on rock, and this focus is like lifting the reigns off Changmin, letting him put his belting chops to good use. The heavy percussion and intense drum beats match the duo’s intense execution, and the alternating of Changmin’s singing and Yunho’s rapping make for uniform and effective progressions in the song. “Getaway” will be one of the go-to songs in their repertoire that exemplifies their cumulative vocal techniques. Undoubtedly, Changmin’s screams are aplenty, but even Yunho manages to work perfectly with the sound through his gruff growls. And the middle eight of the song is simply brilliant, barring any other words. There is definite potential in the song to reach a level of obnoxiousness or disunity in the fashion of Super Junior‘s “Gulliver”. Consequently, it may be the subject of different opinions, but Yunho and Changmin save it from this fate by balancing out their vocal embellishments.
9. “I Swear”
“I Swear” is another pretty ballad that’s able to shine through Yunho and Changmin’s conviction and emotional execution alone. Applaudably written by Changmin to all Cassiopeia, the song is the most simplistic of all the songs in the album. Allowing the boys’ voices be the main highlight, a refreshing change of pace is served after the dynamic instrumentals of the first eight tracks. The arrangement is fittingly beautiful, and our little maestro Changmin carries the majority of the song with Yunho serving as more than capable backup. This comes with its pros and cons since Changmin’s voice has never been the best for ballads. But all in all, “I Swear” is a beautiful piece that’s sure to invoke a few tears from DBSK’s Cassies.
We pick up the pace for the last time with the second to last track, “Gorgeous.” The combination of electric guitar, violin, and heavy synths blends well with the album and proves interesting enough. Unable to toss that dreaded one-dimensional aspect though, the tune has its dynamism but lacks depth. Moreover, there are elements like the monochrome hook as well as heavily processed instrumentals that I’d consider more akin and ultimately better suited to Super Junior. Overall, it serves as an acceptable upbeat track to help balance off the album.
11. “Good Night”
The last song on the album is the beautiful “Good Night.” Its fairly interesting melody keeps the boredom and “filler” tag out, and the verses of the song are such a treat to listen to. The chorus is equally pleasant, with lightness serving as a great contrast against the heavy instrumentals, even though I kinda wanted there to be more distinction between the verses and chorus. The ad-libs aren’t shabby at all either, making “Good Night” a pleasing, yet comfortably slow conclusion to a very diverse album.
Overall a successful release, Catch Me can be considered a quality album when looked at as a whole. Much like its title song, there are small yet evident flaws on the album: some songs certainly can’t stand on their own and there are little blemishes in others that keep them from being perfect. However when looked at collectively, Catch Me can definitely be considered a success for DBSK. At the very least, this album should serve as a clear improvement from their previous lackluster, Keep Your Head Down.
Diversity in the album is apparent, and there are songs that would not strike immediately as relative to DBSK. While the expansion in genres allows for their versatility to be front and center, and growth in their sound to shine through through experimentation, the vast difference in some pieces keep the album from serving as a thematically cohesive compilation; not all of the songs go together or transition together as smoothly. But this is just another minimal flaw, as Yunho, Changmin, and their consistent romantic confidence serve as more than sufficient constants in the album.
Ultimately, DBSK’s Catch Me gets a 4.05/5 from me. There are some real stand outs in this release, and in my opinion, it loftily lives up to to DBSK’s name. But what do you think Seoulmates? Did you enjoy this comeback from The Rising Gods of the East? Or do you think their time in the spotlight is dwindling? As always, leave your thoughts and more below!
(SM Entertainment, BubbleFeetMusicCH4)