“I got everything you need, don’t be shy” sings BoA in the sultry, alluring “Temptations”, and it is an apt description of her latest album. Better does have everything a listener might need; instead of sticking to one genre, the veteran idol navigates through pop, R&B, jazz, disco, and house in just eleven tracks. If you are someone who is comfortable with just a genre or two, then perhaps Better might not suit your taste. If, however, you are one who enjoys changing sounds throughout an album, then Better is almost the perfect album for it. Almost.
To be fair, there is a lot that Better does right. Take the aforementioned “Temptations” for example. The instrumental in itself is engaging and keeps you on your toes. Building up on steady beats of percussions and brass, the addition of quicker, staccato notes of space-synths and snares builds up to a chorus that isn’t necessarily musically dense, but is captivating nonetheless. Add in the show-stealer of the song — BoA’s vocals — and there is nothing to complain about. The vocalist keeps to a lower range of her vocals, and brings a sensual quality to it as she woos one to “give in to [their] temptations”.
Where BoA draws in a potential love interest with “Temptations”, she does the exact opposite with “Cut Me Off”. There, she pleads for a flame to “cut [her] off, (and) erase [her] now”. The track is one of the best (if not the best) off the album, and features a side to BoA’s musicality that we have rarely seen before.
In “Cut Me Off”, BoA follows the trend of the pulsing, breathy songs that we hear often these days (think “Bad Guy“), which is new for a confident vocalist like her. She does not stop there, though, and makes the song uniquely hers with the range of vocal techniques she brings into it. Not only switching from low-range vocals to mid-range vocals, and constantly shifting from a slower tempo to a quicker one, she also adds in husky vocal notes to amp up the experience. There is not much to the instrumental; it is solely BoA’s vocals that push this song into the top few ranks of the album.
The experimentation does not stop there: “L.O.V.E” and “All That Jazz” keep the new and exciting energy balanced throughout the album. “L.O.V.E” has one grooving from the opening note as it starts off a loud space-synth note and draws in its listener as it keeps to an uptempo disco-inspired instrumental. The artist also revisits jazz with “All That Jazz”; the broken relationship that she sings of is complimented by the gentle pace this piece takes. The scat singing is the tangy, tasty cherry on top of a sweet, fluffy cake.
As an idol who has spent years promoting in Korea, Japan, and the US, it is almost redundant to talk about how impeccable BoA’s vocal aptitude is. There is not a single song where one could fault her vocals, be it on Better or off. What does deserve a shout out, though, is the number of songs the artist has penned the lyrics of by herself. Other than “L.O.V.E” and “All That Jazz”, “Cloud” also demonstrates the artist’s penmanship.
Appropriately titled, “Cloud” is an ode that is airy and ethereal. The contemporary R&B influence shines through in this low-tempo track, in which BoA sweetly croons, “Even if everything is poorly done and insufficient, I prepared it just for you. It’s all for you.” Alluding to the album, BoA uses “Cloud” to express the effort she has put in to deliver this milestone album to her fans. “Honey & Diamonds” is similarly a slow track with a funky and groovy instrumental; featuring a catchy hook, the gently thumping bass creates an addictive song that proves to be an earworm.
If there is any fault with “Honey & Diamonds”, it is that the bridge feels almost disjointed from the rest of the track. Both the instrumental and vocals change in composition or tempo, and it creates a rift in the overall flow of the track. Title track “Better” goes through the same demise.
It is not often that the track chosen as the title is the perfect one. “Better”, however, was pretty near being the best choice. It is easy to listen, has a good melody, and while there is nothing particularly outstanding about the pop track, it is a solid pop track that would make one go back to it repeatedly.
However, the bridge starts off with a vocal interlude before it shifts into BoA singing in the manner of a staccato anthem. The vocal belting in the bridge feels out of place. Like “Honey & Diamonds”, it disrupts the consistent energy that was being built from the start of the track, and this results in the song feeling longer than it really is. This is a production technique that Yoo Young-jin pulls often, and I have still not been converted into a fan. Had the track just had included the latter half of the bridge, it would have been flawless.
That being said, tracks like “Start Over” and “Gravity” rein the album back into being close to an immaculate piece of production.
“Start Over” is what good pop sounds like: there is a careful use of percussions, snaps, and synths to bring a heartbreaking and aching sound to an otherwise powerful pop track. The song effortlessly transitions into a “Gravity”, which is also just a classic ballad done to perfection. There is not much to say because every element to the song is done right: sublime instrumental backing, check, charming and polished vocals, check, feeling like you are floating in space as you listen to the song, check.
I sorely wish that “Gravity” had been the outro of Better. “Little Bird” has a hopeful tone that aims to comfort, and was penned with the Covid-19 pandemic in mind. While it is a sweet sentiment, the sound of the outro track falls far out of the gradual comedown that listeners were experiencing with songs prior to it.
Despite its minor flaws, though, Better is satisfying listen with most of its songs being excellently produced. Specifically, “Cut Me Off”, “Temptations”, and “Got Me Good” are reasons enough to give the album a listen. Reminiscent of hit track “Eat You Up“, “Got Me Good” is an enthralling synth-pop track.
On “Got Me Good”, BoA sings:
Something tells me it ain’t over, it ain’t over yet.
And she’s right. With the number of times you would obsessively repeat the song, there are high chances that listening to the song, really, would not have been over yet.
Celebrating her 20th year since debut at the mere age of 34, SM Entertainment was sure to promote her anniversary. With cover tributes, MV remakes, and her own documentary, it was well-known that the idol has reached a remarkable milestone — one that is all the more tougher for a female soloist. But BoA also took this year as an opportunity to release her 10th Korean album, Better, with a range of tracks that were bound to leave its listeners impressed. And impress, she did.
Although there were shortcomings, it is not a stretch to say that this is one of her better (ha) albums. 2020 has given us some solid music releases, and BoA’s Better has so much finesse and stability that it is definitely a serious contender amongst the superior albums this year. If you have yet to listen to Better, “give into your temptations, why (are) you waiting?”