20140522_infinite_season2_tracklistInfinite are back with their second full-length album Season 2! Inspirits, we’ve waited a long time for this, and it may be the most high-stakes release in the group’s history. Expectations and emotions are running high after last summer’s merger of Woollim Entertainment with SM C&C, and the group’s popularity is also at an all-time high in Korea and internationally. Overall, I am happy with this energetic, dance-focused album, though naturally with a few reservations.

This album brings us back to Infinite’s “signature sound”, which is often likened to a combination of Sweetune, dance-based 80s influence, and varying lyric levels of intense romantic love, with some showing the same mildly unhealthy obsession that characterized “The Chaser” and “Be Mine.” This album is very heavy on these upbeat dance songs. But, not every song on the album falls into this pattern. Sunggyu, Woohyun, Infinite H and Infinite F all have tracks, meaning every member now has a solo or a sub-unit. All seven members sound vocally strong, and it is a distinctly Infinite album, with some tracks that I’ll have on repeat for months to come.

1. “Season 2” 

Infinite’s intro tracks are typically strong despite their short length, and this is no exception. The only brief misstep is that the one beat of very abrupt technologized stuttering did briefly jolt me into thinking my computer was malfunctioning, but I quickly recovered. I like the way this led right into “Last Romeo,” blurring where one track ends and the next begins.

2. “Last Romeo”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7kaScuQ0KM]

Infinite’s “stalker song” pattern continues with this lead single, made by the famous Sweetune. I will leave more of this to the MV review, but I think the song works as a strong single with a recognizable chorus and driving beat and I’m very pleased with the sound. But, given that the title of the song references Romeo directly, I wish the lyrics were more fluent in the literary work. While the song begins with a clear reference to Romeo’s obsessive devotion with “I don’t care if it’s poison, I will gladly take it,” the line “shine on my path, whether I want it or not, the decision has been made” confuses. The transition from “gladly” accepting the possibility of death to uncontrollably chasing someone is unclear, and I’m not sure where the “I will protect you no matter what hardships come” fits into the classic Shakespearean tragedy.

The last lines “why do you keep pushing me away/ Trust me, your Romeo/ I have no one but you” turn the tale upon its head. If she, unlike Juliet, is pushing you away repeatedly, how are you her Romeo? Lyrically, since the title was the first thing chosen about the song, I wish it had gone straight for the tragic angle, as the MV’s visuals would actually imply, and deliberately played on the direct reference to a well-known piece of literature.

3. “Follow Me”

A J. Yoon composition, this song is tied for my favorite track of the album; it has been around since 2012 but never released. The opening reminds me heavily of an anime or video game instrumental. Sungjong’s voice is used well here, and Woohyun and Sunggyu build in tandem to increase the suspense before the masterful double fake-out. You think the song is done, but then Woohyun surges back in unaccompanied, followed by Sunggyu’s impressive falsetto; the song trails off again, and then it’s back at full force! 

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_rocinante4. “Rocinante”

A Sweetune composition, this song has maximum catchiness and is another favorite of mine. Dongwoo kicks the song off with a spirited rap, reassuring us that “failure, it’s just something you go through and it passes by anyways.” In the chorus, the members echo on “oo” the synthy background hook that opens the song, a rousing melody that skips, not steps, briskly down the scale beginning with the interval of a fifth. The song has such an upbeat vibe, which contrasts with the lyrics of hardship and struggle; I find this contrast interesting, as if the driving, emphasized beat of the song represents a hardworking spirit.

Lyrically this song brings a new, unique flavor to the obsessive, sometimes unhealthy love lyrics that otherwise populate the album, so combined with the literary reference of the title, this will be the most complicated lyrical analysis. It is about facing an insurmountable romantic obstacle, but rather than encouraging their crushes to “follow them” or to “look only at them,” instead they sing in tandem:

Now go into the big world
Though it’s so far I can’t even see it
Leave me alone, this is what I have to do
Wherever the wind goes

I did not know the title “Rocinante” reference at first. A quick trip to Wikipedia reveals that Rocinante is the name of Don Quixote’s horse in the novel of the same name by Miguel Cervantes:

like Don Quixote, he is awkward, past his prime, and engaged in a task beyond his capacities… Rocinante’s name, then, signifies his change in status from the “old nag” of before to the “foremost” steed…

Or, as Cervantes puts it:

a name, to his thinking, lofty, sonorous, and significant of his condition as a hack before he became what he now was, the first and foremost of all the hacks in the world

In this song, Infinite are also attempting to transform themselves as they walk winding roads. They declare “if the walls are high/ I’ll break them down” and “the hardships given to me make me stronger/ It’s just momentary pain.” Whether for Infinite’s journey as idols or to anyone struggling to better themselves, the reference to the noble steed Rocinante who came from humble beginnings is quite fitting.

This song lyrically is everything I wanted from “Last Romeo.” Even though there aren’t any direct references to the esteemed novel in the song, and there is no need to have knowledge of Don Quixote to enjoy the song, when I look up the literary reference it adds a new cohesive layer of meaning and clarifies the message, rather than confusing it. “Rocinante” carries you on a journey of “uphill roads” of self-doubt and self-confidence, with members encouraging the value of spending some time alone to improve yourself for later relationships, rather than chasing fruitlessly after a past love.

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_sunggyu5. “Breathe”

Infinite aren’t chasing anyone in this song either, instead they plead, “let me breathe, give me space to breathe”! This song’s catchy melody has a clear direction from the substantial layering of synths. The descending notes of the chorus are sung in a resolute manner, like a very controlled shout, and the a cappella interjections of “oo oo oo” create a feeling of support. It’s a strong track with a dark edge.

6. “Light”–Sunggyu solo

This is definitely a departure from the more rocker Sunggyu heard on his solo album Another Me, but he proves his versatility once again in this more pop track. His falsetto is fully utilized and as always, it is incredibly pleasant to listen to. He is also impressively credited with the lyrics, which are a romantic serenade, while J.Yoon, who contributed two other tracks to the album, did the composition and arrangement. Composition-wise, there is a high-pitched recurring sound that amusingly reminds me of the fictional “stars twinkling” noise. However, given that the album is already heavy on electro-synthy numbers, I can’t help but wish this solo featured more of a continuation from his solo work.

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_infiniteh7. “Alone”–Infinite H (Hoya, Dongwoo)

Infinite H make a fleeting return with “Alone.” A Rphabet production with lyrics written by Hoya and Dongwoo, it’s laid-back and typical of the sub-unit’s sound. Lyric-wise, Hoya has said that imagined how it would feel to be breaking up with Inspirits while writing. If we take what Hoya said into consideration, this transforms the song into a more interesting read. At first it seems like a back-and-forth game of self-deception, where one minute they sing about how unfairly “one-sided” the relationship is balanced in favor of the other person and the next they admit “I’m a bad guy.” The repeated line “I’m making you cry as always” becomes less about a man in an individual romantic relationship that just isn’t working–by viewing the relationship as one between idol and fan, it transforms the song into a question.

Special day event, touching moments
You’re not my style, selfish thoughts
What comes back is a criticism in cold silence
I treat you well but you one-sidedly attack by saying I did wrong
Like an enemy who has been caught with a weakness, I beg till the very end
Growing far apart, I don’t know the reason you yell at me like crazy

Applied to the possibility of a fan-idol relationship ending, the lyrics become much more depressing, highlighting some negative aspects of idol culture. Male idols in Korea are faced with a ticking alarm clock of military service, an event that they are never allowed to publicly express any ambivalence towards. And yet the fear of fans forsaking them for another group no matter what they do, living with all behaviors under a constant spotlight, and the real worry that someday there may not be an audience to perform for, all of these are thoughts that surfaced when I listened to this song as an idol-fan break-up. When Infinite H sing “erase a guy like me as if nothing happened, goodbye,” it’s less a passive-aggressive parting than a panic-soaked idol nightmare.

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_debutera8. “Memories”

This song provides much-needed softness to the album. The lyrics express nostalgia for a past love that they didn’t treat in all the right ways. The “doot doot doo doo doo” bit is extremely cute, especially when sung by Myungsoo, whose voice tends to sound young. For me personally, I think the song could have worked better on the album a few beats slower, given it’s about memories and looking back, but it is a solid track either way.

9. “A Person Like Me”

Like “Follow Me,” another J. Yoon track, this song has been out for a while as well but never released. This mid-tempo ballad tackles fresh post-breakup feelings, with a hint of betrayal in “It was a lie when you told me you loved me/ I buried it deep in my heart as a scar,” the most interesting lyric line of the song. But the song redeems itself in the vocals. While I don’t find the verses especially engaging, Woohyun and Sunggyu soar on their solo notes in the chorus, playing off each other’s voices. Given they already sing most of the song, I can’t be the only person who’s curious how this would sound as a WooGyu duet, hopefully on a future concert stage?

10. “Reflex”

On an album full of dance-ready, 80s-inspired tracks like “Last Romeo,” “Rocinante,” and “Shower,” “Reflex” makes the least impact. Though it has all those specified qualities in droves, there isn’t enough added on to make it pop on a outgoing album. For example, the intro instrumental is 25 seconds long and features a repeating line; with ad-libs or a musical line that changed, it could be much more interesting to listen to. Take “Shower” or even the intro track as an example. What this song is missing is layering and instrumental/vocal detailing, much like the track that follows.

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_infinitef11. “(I’m) Going Crazy”–Infinite F (Sungyeol, L/Myungsoo, Sungjong)

I’ll confess that this is my bias’s sub-unit debut, and so it nearly physically pains me to say this might be the song I like the least. The background is very sparse, and there is little layering of instruments on top of each other. The background repeats the entire song with little rest, which I quickly found irritating. The entire intro section returns verbatim in the middle of the song, creating an emotional plateau right when the song should be building up. And it doesn’t; there isn’t a climax or any clear high points of emotion. They all have unique voices from each other; Myungsoo’s voice is very youthful and Sungjong’s voice has a relaxing breathiness, and I do not think the song was written to take advantage of their and Sungyeol’s vocal differences. Instead the three members mainly sing at the same volume level throughout and the vocal line doesn’t feature many intricacies or innovations; verses repeat, choruses repeat. However, Myungsoo’s voice brings a strong confidence to the song, which also applies to his singing throughout the album. I’m surprised the Infinite F song “Heartbeats” that premiered at One Great Step Returns along with “Alone” was not also or instead included.

12. “When I Close My Eyes”–Woohyun solo

I’ll admit that slow, mellow ballads are not my jam, so this song does not land home for me. But, Woohyun sells the song on his vocal power, replete with heartfelt emotion and surely strengthened by the fact that he did the lyrics and composition for the song. It is about deep heartache and tears over a love that won’t return. Sound-wise, it is a bit out of place on the very upbeat album, but the production contributions from different Infinite members to the album are still great to see.

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_all713. “Shower”

Doesn’t every album or mini have a song that is automatically dubbed “what should have been the lead single”? Well, for Season 2, that track is definitely “Shower,” a rousing declaration of perseverance supplanted by another memorable melodic hook. “Shower” in the song refers to a bleak rainshower, a metaphor for heartbreak. While once a girl (gender is specified) brought rain into a “drought-like life,” now the rain will not stop falling. The lyrics show some ambiguity, pleading for someone to “come back,” while always returning to the chorus of “I’ll erase this heartbreak, I’ll win over it/This heartbreak,” whether that includes a romantic resolution or not. Also, the song’s intro sounds like the instrumental background of an epic fairytale. 

The album as a whole:

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_woohyunVocals: It’s almost a given that Sunggyu and Woohyun sound fantastic. Myungsoo sounds particularly solid on this album, and Hoya and Dongwoo maintain their usual consistency on singing and rapping. Once again though, it’s a shame that Sungyeol and Sungjong don’t have more singing lines, given the audible improvement of their voices in “Going Crazy.” One of the Infinite’s strong points is the overall member singing skill while still maintaining seven unique voices, and interesting past combinations like Sungjong’s lightness on the bridge of “Feel So Bad” or Sungyeol rapping in “Cover Girl” usually pay off. So my only minor criticism is that I would have liked more risk in the album’s line distribution, which has more to do with composition.

Lyrics: The lyrics are the most disappointing part, sadly. Many are obsessive/stalker songs, very unhealthy and very similar across the album. I know that’s what Infinite is known for but past albums have still included more variety. Though the songs all sound musically different from each other, the lyrics could sometimes be carbon copies. “Follow Me” says “only look at me, don’t look back” and “look at me, I’m crazily writhing toward you, hands reaching,” “Last Romeo” asks, “why do you keep pushing me away,” “A Person Like Me” reads “I can’t do anything about me being a tiring person/ I only become obsessed like this” and even Woohyun sings “If we meet again, I won’t ever let go of your hands.” Because these songs are all linked by virtue of being on the same album, they highlight an uncomfortable pattern of obsessive rather than healthy love. However, there are clear highlights like “Rocinante” and the thought-provoking “Alone,” and “Breathe” offers the opposite point of view for some nice variety.

20140523_seoulbeats_infinite_season2_sungjongtwitterSound: Individually, there are quite a few more hits than misses for me on the album, which is great. However, I have some reservations when the album is taken as a whole, since I usually expect cohesiveness when a full album is released. When these collection of songs are brought together on one album, it is somewhat noise-heavy and overwhelmingly fast-paced, like a dance marathon with few water breaks. Over half the songs clock in at 122 bpm (beats per minute) or above, quite fast–Yes, I was curious enough to measure it myself. “Hello,” the hidden track, brings back the much-loved acoustic Infinite sound that was missing from the album. It would have been a good balancing track if it had been stretched to its full length release for this album.

Overall: An enjoyable, upbeat release with several noteworthy songs.

Rating: 3.8/5


(Don Quixote , Wikipedia, Lyrics via popgasa, Tracklist translation, YouTube [1], Images via imgarcade, Twitter, Woollim Entertainment)