20140515_seoulbeats_4menThere have been a lot of changes for 4Men since their debut in 1998 — all of the founding members are no longer with the vocal group. Their latest album also sees the departure of Kim Young-jae, leaving Kim Won-joo and Shin Yong-jae to promote as a duo, but the group still manages to keep their sound intact. The two members bring a wondrous old-school appeal on their fifth full album and they’ve also taken part in writing and composing five out of the ten tracks.

“Yuljikimi (Intro)” reveals the concept behind the album. The listener hears someone surfing the television before settling on an episode of Inkigayo. The instrumental of “Star” begins to play in the background while the winner (Fin.K.L) is announced. The premise of the album is evident – a hearkening back to the sound of the 90s.

As the music melds into the next track “Star,” nostalgia seeps through the speakers. The song is a mid-tempo ballad that is punctuated with a slower drum beat. The lyrics speak about a venerated idol on television that they are in love with. It is a sweet song that immediately sets the tone of the album.

Vocal power, harmonies, and a tint of melancholy permeate the first of three title tracks off the album. On “Pray,” the duo offers their hopes that their ex-love will find more happiness after their separation. The song follows a familiar ballad structure backed by a string section, great harmonies, and finger snaps. At the climax of the song, there are some strong Boys II Men vibes, which is another similarly excellent 90s R&B vocal quartet.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnlZIMZgToE]

The next song “You Must Say” featuring Ben, is my favorite track off the album. This R&B number is a welcome change with its slightly increased tempo and female-vocal layering. Despite the beat, the story told through the lyrics is quite sad. It is about receiving a ‘break-up’ phone call in the middle. 4Men plead with the girl to “not say any more.” The falsettos hit a sweet pocket, and this is not a track to be missed.

The second title track “Erase” eases the listener in with a steady piano backdrop. The chorus opens up to some major belting. Stylistically, 4Men’s songs follow a ballad progression, but when they sound this darn good, it is not hard to just sit back and enjoy. Their ability to hit the lower register notes and transition to the high soaring choruses is out of this world.

“Sorry Jihye-ya” starts off with an acapella harmony. It sees the duo look back on an immature time in their life, a time when they didn’t treat a previous lover well. They ask for her forgiveness and lament turning their back on her during their younger days. The last half of the song is exceptional, with Shin Yong-jae commanding everyone’s attention with the power of his voice.

“I Said Thanks” has an old school, slow burner type of feeling to it. Where the beat seems to pronounce the end of the vocals, the strings and keyboard progressions follow an unconventional structure, making the song less predictable. With strong harmonies coming in to break up the chorus and verses, the vocal variation is presented as a stunning piece of work.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc9AfdgBNAw]

The third and final title track on the album is “OK.” Probably the most pop-sounding track on the album, it is light and emotional. The refrain of “OK OK OK” gives the song a sing-a-long ability. It is another solid ballad from 4Men, but I personally felt this track might have benefited from a higher tempo or with a bit more variation in its composition.

Kim Won-joo’s solo song “Beautfiul” is the hidden gem on this album. The only instrumental element on this track is the acoustic guitar that strips it down and makes it stand out. The song is quiet and intimate, which is perfect for the lyrics. Kim Won-joo’s tenor is soothing as he sings about how unbelievable it is to be with the person he loves. It is a tender and earnest ode that works because of the vocal restraint that is showcased here.

“Excuse” is unforgiving in the vocal scale that it traverses. Shin Yong-jae’s solo starts off as an acoustic piano number showcasing the sensibilities of his lower register. Violins crash in during an instrumental interlude that swells before his vocals join all of these components for a fantastic climax. The gritty emotion that is expressed during the latter half of the song draws the listener in and makes for a great conclusion to the album.

20140515_seoulbeats_4men2The second part of the album features the instrumentals for every song, which is a nice addition. Listening to these tracks makes me realize how keyboard-synth heavy the first half of the album was – probably to add the wistful throwback nod to the 90s. Since most of these tracks are very organic, the compositions stay interesting to listen to, even devoid of 4Men’s superlative vocals.

Overall, this album is a great package. The pacing of the album is solid with its variations in tempo and its compositions coming together to make a lovely listen. The tone of the songs and lyrics are pensive, looking back at old relationships with the R&B flair that 4Men is known for. I feel like I would be overly gushing about the vocals, but they are truly excellent and of another caliber. The instrumentals add a nice touch and give credit to the varied arrangement and styles of musical production. This is a must listen for fans of R&B, ballads, and vocal excellency.

Rating: 4.5/5

Readers, what are your thoughts?

(Happyface Entertainment, YouTube [1][2], DongA; Lyrics via Pop Gasa)