I’ve had a long-standing fascination with the solo debuts of Girl’s Generation. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s a sense of morbid curiosity to see if they can define a sound for themselves out of the shadow of their group. Yoona’s debut, with the EP A Walk To Remember, is no exception. That said, I almost find it more interesting as a case study than a piece of music.
A Walk To Remember is being pushed as a special album, likely due to its construction. Three out of the five songs are previous releases– “Deoksugung Stonewall Walkway” and “When The Wind Blows” were SM Station songs, and “To You” was composed and performed during Yoona’s time on Hyori’s Homestay 2. These songs were written over three years apart. Given that, it’s amazing how cohesive A Walk To Remember Sounds. Or maybe it’s not.
I have long lived by the adage that one does not need to be a great singer to be a great pop singer. What one needs are flattering production and the ability to sell your material. While Yoona can do the latter, she’s let down in terms of the former. She’s doing her best here, and it’s fine, but it’s not great. I honestly hesitate to call it good.
The starting issue is that A Walk To Remember is a one-trick pony. It’s a collection of five acoustic ballads that all live and die on bittersweet maybes and hopeful thoughts. On one level, this is understandable– it’s an unavoidable fact that Yoona doesn’t have the best range, so these tracks were composed around her color and tone. She can do sweet longings and delicate optimism. Her quiet defiance of tradition on “Deoksugung Stonewall Walkway” plays off very well against guest 10cm, and “When The Wind Blows” nails the sense of amiable loss.
The issue is that the production doesn’t flatter Yoona’s voice at all. Her vocals are constantly washed out underneath guitar riffs and piano lines. Most of the instrumentation is placed so close to the front of the mix that it makes Yoona’s voice sound even weaker in comparison. Admittedly, on “When The Wind Blows” the added fragility matches the aura of the song, but then there’s “Promise”, where the vocal strain is the most memorable aspect.
Then there’s the tracks’ instrumentation. None of these songs are bad, but they are all fairly bland ballads in the same mold. All light, all gentle, all melancholic with a touch of hope to keep them from crossing into outright sad. Lead single “Summer Night” featuring 20 Years of Age, has a warm, relaxing acoustic guitar, while “To You” is a graceful, poised piano ballad. There’s nothing bad, but there aren’t any distinctive melodies or noticeable hooks. It’s just five pretty but generic ballads, one after the other. The end result is soothing and pleasant, but not memorable.
A Walk To Remember is almost a warning before attempting a solo project. Yoona was able to release three of these songs alone without issue, but an entire EP exposed the cracks in her ability to work solo. It’s excellent background noise if you’re doing something stressful, but A Walk To Remember doesn’t make you want to go back and relisten to it.
(Image via SM Entertainment, YouTube)