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Posted by AKP STAFF Monday, August 8, 2011

[Review] 'Mr. Simple' by Super Junior

AKP STAFF
allkpop

Super Junior are professionals at melting entire K-Pop communities to bubbling puddles of goo. They hold more power in the palm of their hands than most boy bands combined, and so it comes as no surprise that news of their comeback completely dominated the international K-Pop community. Needless to say, the concept (as wacky as it may be) served its purpose - to grab all eyes and ears towards Super Junior like moths to a neon-colored flame. With the release of 'Mr. Simple', Super Junior's fifth studio album, consider yourself jet-packing to the light and getting fried. Their image was loud and eclectic, bold and bewildering. It left me wondering, how would this album actually sound? Is it as coo-coo bananas as what I'm looking at? Well, let's find out. — Track List: 01 Mr. Simple 02 ??? (Opera) 03 ???? (Be My Girl) 04 Walkin' 05 ?? (Storm) 06 ??? ?? (Good Friends) 07 ?? (Feels Good) 08 ??? ?? (Memories) 09 ???? (Sunflower) 10 ??? ?? (White Christmas) 11 Y 12 My Love, My Kiss, My Heart 13 ??? (???: Perfection) (Bonus Track) — SM Entertainment seemed to know that this album would be Super Junior's last before members Heechul and Leeteuk march into their military service. And so, to help them brave this impending departure, SM cooked up one final single which they could wreak havoc with, just for old time's sake. In truth, Super Junior's title track is hectic and full of frenzy. It features a stu-stu-stu-stuttering instrumental and a pair of verses that are as glitchy. We hear most members chiming in through the first verse - from Siwon biting through his lines to Donghae quacking ever-so-endearingly. Then the chorus hits, hammering all the synths, dings, and vocals together in a synchronized fashion to the eighth notes; it's resulted in something like controlled chaos. There's an unmistakable familiarity to "Mr. Simple" that I'm sure hasn't gone unnoticed. "Mr. Simple" is at its core, a complete rehashing of "Sorry, Sorry" (2009). It was done with "Bonamana" (2010), which wasn't that blatant of a copy, but it certainly came from the same archetype. Now you have version no. 3, which may actually contain samples from the two. It doesn't quite venture out of what Super Junior have released in the past, and so it's not as groundbreaking as one would have hoped. But its energy and loudness is right in line with what Super Junior always seem to bring to the stages of K-Pop. "Mr. Simple" is like any other SM lead single, put together to be experienced in a setting where elements like choreography, special effects, and the members themselves are enough to distract from the otherwise recycled aspects of the song. ------ Elsewhere, the second track, "Opera", finds its roots in another previously-released SM track. "Opera" begins by setting speakers ablaze with a set of alarms that have a choppy, robotic feel that sounds vaguely familiar. "Opera" has less extraneous details than the title track, but it sounds like a hybrid of "Perfection" and f(x)'s "NU ABO". By the 30-second mark, I found myself waiting for the lines "Hysteric, Hysteric" to kick in, followed by "Na na na na na na na na". Something about this song makes me feel claustrophobic. It's very boxed in, if you will, and just having the whole thing throbbing in time with the tempo is like sitting in a room with the walls caving in - one pulse at a time. The effect is intensified by the addition of a breath-like nuance that eases closer to the forefront as the song progresses. It's an interesting effect, albeit a little scary in the sense that "Opera" sounds like it's spiraling down to eat me. It's perhaps this meeting of the senses which gives "Opera" a dash of appeal, and lessens the impact of its similarity to f(x)'s track. ------ The momentum continues with "Be My Girl". At first, this song doesn't come across as particularly outstanding, due to its relatively standard instrumental and melodies. But then I started getting these tiny sparks of deja vu to a style/sound I had experienced before. It hit me later that this sounds and feels at least a little like a Pet Shop Boys song. Of course, having been penned by European and American masterminds (GoodWill & MGI), it was bound to have a Euro-pop feel, and by the second half, that's all you hear. The pre-chorus is really where it's at; it's slightly eerie, and slightly indulgent. Under an electro-pop production, these pieces - Super Junior's voices, the minimalistic style, and heavy Euro influence - come together enough to make sense, at least for this song. ------ Strolling behind "Be My Girl" is "Walkin'", a pseudo-reggae pop track that marks the point in which we lose sight of any 'conceptual' cohesion and veer off into unrelated styles. For what it's worth, "Walkin'" brings a sense of relief from the aggressive energy of the first three tracks. It has traces of the same vibes felt in "No Other" (2010), and to that effect, Super Junior comes off as a boy band singing like a boy band, which is something to be appreciated from time to time. Frequently, Super Junior strive to be the loudest, most provocative thing on the radio, but it's when they pull back just a tiny bit that they feel more real to me. ------ On its heels is "Storm", the first ballad on the album. True to SM's style, it's going to sound like it belongs to a fairytale. Aside from the fact that there was one glorious spot (1:22) where the string section was split right in the middle between the violins and the bass section - staying faithful to an actual orchestral arrangement, and making good use of panning finally - there's not much to address here. It's a pretty ballad, but since Super Junior have so many, "Storm" may ironically find itself lost in the fray. ------ "Good Friends" probably takes the position as my favorite track on the album, as it delivers all kinds of (relatively) loony ideas in one song. And yet, Super Junior did good in that delivery. "Good Friends" has a western-ish influence mixed with a spoonful of J-pop that has a quirky bounce to its beat. Super Junior sings beautifully on top of a set of fun guitar riffs and tooting trumpets that come together surprisingly well. It's these moments of mid-tempo goodness paired with fabulous vocals that Super Junior are at their best. They're given room to pull back and just as much room to plow through in a stampede. "Good Friends" embraces Super Junior for everything that this group has to offer, especially through its exhibit of pop-vocal artistry. From awesome singing to snarling whispers, it's a concise and well-executed blend of all the Super Junior aspects that drives fans crazy. ------ Of course, they're still Super Junior, and living up to that name takes work. "Feels Good" shuffles the boys back to a march-down electronica lane. Basically, that's all this song is - a robotic march with very little dimension. It's really cool how it becomes somewhat epic-like at the break down, but that only lasts for a few seconds. Then there's "Memories", a ballad that isn't as forgettable as "Storm", but one that could still use a kick or two to bring it to full bloom. Nevertheless, "Memories" is really well done. Yesung sounds absolutely gorgeous on this song. And hold the phone - do I hear Shindong singing? That was unexpected... ------ "Sunflowers" continues this fluffy ambiance with an arrangement commonly heard rotating in the backdrop of Korean dramas (preferable in a bright lit cafe setting). It's almost too pretty for what this album should be going for. With that said, "Sunflowers" exemplifies the proficiency of a good production. Pretending like this song wasn't part of 'Mr. Simple' (the album), "Sunflowers" does a lovely job of making Super Junior sound like the suave men we know they are. Their singing is matched well enough with the sparkly instrumental to barely stand out as a keeper. ------ "White Christmas" enters, and right away there's something odd about hearing a bunch of guys singing over a rock arrangement, mainly because I'm used to watching live bands rocking out on small stages (and roughly they're comprised of four members at the most). In any case, there are moments when the melodies start meshing really well with the instrumental and Super Junior have me bobbing my head, but the steam dies down when the song comes up short from going anywhere. It's a decent tune, but not memorable like it could have been. "Y", composed by Donghae and One Way's Chance, is a pleasant surprise. Not so much that it is Donghae's brainchild, but how smooth Super Junior sound under this R&B-pop style. Is it crazy to think that Super Junior may actually know what works best for them? Because "Y" is the clear winner above the rest of the slow tempo songs on this album. This penultimate track easily outshines "Storm" and "Memories" because it doesn't indulge in these overwhelming sweeps of orchestration and composition. Granted, those styles are amazing, but "Y" doesn't overthink the idea of a slow song, and that's what ends up making it a refreshing experience among the rest of these tracks. ------ Finally, we have the triumphant "My Love, My Kiss, My Heart". This closing track sounds as poetic through my headphones as it reads on screen. I'm a firm believer that it doesn't take mind-numbing trends like what you hear in the title track to whip up a song actually worth praising, that is catchy in its own way, and displays a group at the pinnacle of their talent. "My Love, My Kiss, My Heart", more or less, achieves this difficult feat. Sure, it's Super Junior K.R.Y., but the point is that this song comes off believable enough to have an actual place in an archive worth preserving rather than being just another throwaway pop ballad. Kyuhyun is in his element in this song, belting like nobody's business, while Ryeowook surprises by not sounding shrill finally, and Yesung can do no wrong, honestly. Hearing them shine in a finely composed song like this is not a bad way to end this album. === 'Mr. Simple' doesn't disappoint, but it does underwhelm. Dividing the songs on this album into separate entities presents a feast of styles and flavors which, on their own, work fairly well. Obviously, that goes for some more than others. But that's not how we're intended to embrace this compilation of songs. They're meant to be experienced as a wholesome piece of work, because that's basically how an album is supposed to function. Yet, there's a clear disconnect among them. It's something brought upon by SM Entertainment's habit of focusing all their energy on title tracks, while dropping whatever songs they deem worthy to call it a 'full album'. It explains why SM artists continuously cycle through a promotional period with one single, return a month later with a repackaged album and another lead single in tow, and completely forget that there's an actual album chock-full of good songs right in front of them. However, looking at it another way, this is strictly a business move; a bigger album costs more, regardless of its content, and given the fanbase, SM can damn well expect a hefty cash flow. But I can't sit here sifting through SM Entertainment's business decisions without thinking that they're shamelessly undermining the musical value of an album. Sure, they're pushing one sound and concept because that's what's decided for Super Junior at the moment, but where is the connection with that one song and every other song stacked behind it? Unless it's written in fineprint that the first quarter of the album is one style, the next quarter is another, and so on and so forth, there really is no continuity within this album to justify why track number one and track number eight sound like they're from two completely different worlds. There has to be at least a common thread linking them all together. And then there's the lead single itself. Yoo Young Jin (SM Entertainment producer of "Sorry, Sorry", "Bonamana") is talented beyond what anyone can imagine, but he's doing himself as well as Super Junior a disservice by sending "Sorry, Sorry" through a food processor and feeding it to Super Junior years later in a different format. Listen, "Sorry, Sorry" and that whole album had its moment to shine, and boy, did it ever. Super Junior carved their name into the history books with that song and catapulted to stardom of explosive proportions. They were untouchable. Now, two years later, Super Junior is still trying to live up to (if not re-do) everything from the "Sorry, Sorry" era via crazy concepts and 'reinvented' arrangements. More than impress, it translates as a lazy effort on YYJ's part, and a tired one from Super Junior. It begs the question, how many more times will they recycle a set of songs before they realize it's time to move on? Unfortunately for Super Junior, it resulted in a fifth album that had some great tracks, but poor overall cohesion. Ultimately, it felt like the boys faltered somehow on their way back to the throne as Korea's K-Pop princes, and the hype just didn't match up to the finished product. — Overall Rating: 3.4/5 - some songs are fantastic; while others, completely forgettableWhat are your thoughts on Super Junior's new album, 'Mr. Simple'? — Suggestions for a future review? Hit the author up on Twitter (@rothsresidence) or via e-mail (arnold.arteaga@allkpop.com)! — Rating Overview: 0 – 1.9 ; poor, without any redeeming qualities 2.0 – 2.9 ; mediocre, but with some saving graces 3.0 – 3.9 ; good, with noteworthy highs and lows 4.0 – 4.9 ; excellent, with minimal flaws 5 ; superior, and as near to perfection as the song/album can be — Note: This article does not reflect the opinions of allkpop, only of the author.

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