“I’ve tried and tried to be everything that I could be. I’m just screaming at the top of my lungs.”
Six years after his last solo album, Henry Lau has released a captivating album that shows his true colors while giving nods to his complicated musical past.
While Henry initially debuted as an idol with the controversy-ridden Super Junior-M under SM Entertainment, he has always stuck out from the idol landscape. Growing up as a musician and with professional producing experience from the Berklee College of Music, Henry is a multi-talented, multilingual, multi-instrumentalist, but up until recently his professional and personal personas seemed at odds. Following his departure from SM Entertainment, Henry signed with Monster Entertainment, started a down-to-earth (and cheesy) YouTube channel that takes fans behind the scenes into his real life, and released his first solo album with Monster Entertainment. His last full album was a long six years ago under SM Entertainment, and he has only released a handful of singles and OSTs since then.
Journey is not only musically fulfilling, but it finally feels like listeners are hearing the “real” Henry. His career has been a mixed bag of being sidelined by SM Entertainment, sporadic success as an actor, soloist, and model, and frequent stints on Begin Again. These endeavors have given us a glimpse at Henry’s current evolution, but a full album in his own voice is a long time coming. The songs are a mix of Korean and English that send a very clear message: Henry is back, and he is authentically and organically himself. He has a penchant for interesting instrument choices, loop peddles, and electronic mixing, so this album comes as no surprise, but it is refreshing and stands out from most other solo releases as of late.
There’s less of a clear theme for this album other than to signal a new beginning of his career. All of his talents are on full display from his wild two-piano playing to a star-studded feature track withquirky. The tracks “Radio,” “Hands Up,” “Right Now,” and “Come Over” are just fun tracks that showcase Henry’s composition and production chops. They’re fun, bright, and groovy without remaining boring. They aren’t intricate in their harmonies persay, but the little details in the audio production make each song sound interesting without need for anything intricate. “Just Be Me” is the stand-alone power ballad that sounds like a commentary of his past, present, and future all in one.
“Radio” is an interesting choice of title track. It has an emotional flavor to it, but with funky bass lines and Henry’s two-piano playing madness. The MV depicts two (maybe three) Henrys: one alone in a forest in pursuit of a pure, white deer and another driving a sleek, white sports car. The former Henry, stripped of all the glitz and glamour likely represents Henry’s current self, car mogul Henry is the past Henry, and the white deer depicts his future. There’s little conceptual story beyond that, but the stark contrast between these personas seems like a deliberate choice on Henry’s part to separate his singer-songwriter image from his idol image.
Aside from the music and imagery, one would be amiss not to acknowledge how truly beautiful the MV actually is. Admittedly, the CG on the deer is a little… questionable, but the backdrop and cinematography work are breathtaking. Tight shots of Henry singing are interspersed with wide pans of the beautiful setting all around him. It feels fresh and natural, suiting the dramatic and sweeping sound of the music well. Overall, the visuals, loose thematic elements, and music make this track satisfying and refreshing.
“Hands Up,” “Right Now,” and “Come Over” are all just fun, upbeat tracks. They’re quirky and fun with a lot of intricate details to uncover both vocally and electronically. With Henry advanced production experience, his unique flavor can be felt all throughout these songs. “Hands Up” is a party track featuring pH-1 that encourages the listener to “groove your body” and that “we are gonna fly to the sky, fly away.” It’s a relatively simple track harmonically and rhythmically, but it’s fun and pH-1’s addition to the song gives it a unique color. “Right Now” has a similar message in its lyrical scope, but is a bit more of a “live in the now” happy-go-lucky anthem for seizing today. It’s catchy, fun, and lighthearted.
“Come On Over” is a goofy, quirky track featuring Gray, Kim Go Eun, Park Na Rae, Joon Park, Jeon Hyun Moo, Jessi, and Han Hye Jin. The track is catchy with a wealth of weird, a cappella-esque loops. It sounds a bit chaotic in the first listen and the lyrics are a bit repetitive, but little deviances and improvisations from the featured artists leave the listener needing multiple listens to tease out all the fun Easter eggs. It is almost like an acoustic I-Spy of “whose vocal chop could this be?” Finished off with Jessi’s “That good Henry?” is enough to make one cackle and personifies the spontaneous, comical nature of the song as a whole.
The fourth track “Just Be Me” is the stand-out song on the album for me. Written all in English, it seems like Henry is screaming out for acceptance and releasing all his pent-up feelings from the last 10+ years in the industry, but in song form. Lyrics like “Does anybody hear me when I’m talking” and “Tell me why I never did it for me” speak for themselves. Now that he is signed under a label co-founded by his brother, one can only imagine how emotional it must feel to revive and rebrand his solo career with this new album after six years. The lyrics and sweeping instrumentals make “Just Be Me” an effective and memorable power ballad to round out the album.
Henry’s newest album is chock full of production gems to uncover while remaining enjoyable and easy to listen to. It finally feels like Henry’s authentic voice can come through in his music, and it may take listen after listen to tease out all the intricate details. Organic, quirky, and catchy is a good concept for him, and it makes me wonder what this rebirth of his career means for future releases.