It’s been a long time coming, but Infinite leader Kim Sung Gyu finally made a solo comeback with Inside Me, a mini-album that is a world apart from his previous solo releases. Where albums like 27 were warm and melodic in nature, this third mini-album is colder, more atmospheric, and infused with more R&B elements.

Listeners get a taste of this with “INSIDE ME”, which combines the various sounds which will feature in the rest of the album into an exciting, unpredictable opening instrumental track. The bass beat features prominently here, along with a static sound that gives the whole track a grungy feel, but these are heightened by Sung Gyu’s vocal parts and a high-strung sound that is characteristic of composer BLSSD‘s music. Just as how Sung Gyu worked with Nell‘s Kim Jong Wan for most of his second mini-album, 4/6 of the tracks on Inside Me are created by BLSSD, allowing the whole album to flow seamlessly.

Title track “I’m Cold” flows very nicely from “Inside Me”, and it is evident that this album is meant to be listened to sequentially. Right off the bat, a familiar Infinite sound makes an appearance – a sound effect which BLSSD also used for “The Eye“, the group’s title track from 2016. Beyond that, the instrumentation is subtle and muted, casting the focus solely on Sung Gyu’s powerful voice. As the song progresses however, guitars are suddenly incorporated in new sections, thoroughly changing the pace and the mood of the track. Silence is also used very effectively to create contrasts between the high-energy choruses and the more emotional verses/bridges, adding dynamism to a track that could otherwise have been repetitive.

Sung Gyu’s vocal abilities play a big part in reducing that monotony, and it is particularly impressive how he lets out his angst slowly in small bursts before letting his voice explode along with the song’s climax. This title track is not particularly ear-catching on the first listen, but it definitely improves on repeated listens, and Sung Gyu’s charming voice is one of the main reasons for this.

The album picks up with “Fade”, one of its best tracks. From its striking opening chords and the surprisingly beautiful high tone of its electric guitar, the song immediately sets itself apart. While it sounds like a ballad at the start, the introduction of the complex underlying beat is impactful and totally shifts the style of the track. Its chorus is addictive and an instant earworm, but the flow of the rest of the song remains relatively unpredictable, forcing listeners to pay attention to understand where it is going. In the hands of a less skilled arranger, it could be disorienting, but there are sufficient grounding points masterfully placed throughout the song which work to link the diverse sections together.

Once again, repetition is key here, whether it’s the lyric “안녕” (Goodbye, in this context) or “Bye” which Sung Kyu stretches heavily in the chorus, and while lyrical creativity is compromised in this aspect, it does its job in highlighting the overall message of the song, which laments a relationship that has passed.

Following that theme of love and loss, we have “Room”, the only traditional ballad of the album. Sung Kyu brings out his composing skills here, and collaborated with famous musician Sunwoo Jung-a and Baek Kyung Jin to create this piece. Reflective and sentimental, listeners can hear how Sung Kyu has truly matured as a singer over the past few years. His stirring long notes now carry desperation, weariness and despair all at the same time. This is especially evident in the lines:

That’s the end when it passes
All I can do is, oh
It’s pathetic

It is simple, and not as musically innovative as the other offerings of Inside Me, but it reaches directly into the heart and just about wrenches it out with the relatable helplessness he conveys here. At the end of the day, what else is there to do but “cry and cry again”?

Switching up the mood, the jazzy “DIVIN'” rears its head, and it is *chef’s kiss*. Its introduction is slightly nostalgic, with a riff that feels like it belongs in the 2010s era of K-pop, but the slick bass which accompanies it keeps things alive. The ease with which Sung Gyu enters in and out of his falsetto also makes this song infinitely more satisfying to listen to. Jazz piano is sprinkled throughout the instrumentation, but it is well-blended with the other electronic instruments, creating a cohesive and balanced track.

In his final collaboration with BLSSD for the album, Sung Gyu worked with them for the creation of “Climax”, an uplifting and fitting conclusion to Inside Me. In terms of style, vocal effects abound in this track, unlike other songs where Sung Gyu’s voice is unedited, but they prove the versatility of his voice to match each and every style perfectly.

More significantly, however, “Climax” is clearly Sung Gyu’s story – he acknowledges the uncertainty that lies ahead, the fear that he has that the public will lose interest in him, but he is also determined to press on and keep singing. It is a powerful, personal anthem, and there is no better way to end off this album. With his conviction intact, and the grand return he’s made to the K-pop industry with Inside Me, here’s to hoping that we can hear more stunning solo work from him soon!

(Images via Woollim Entertainment. Youtube.)