XIA - 'FLOWER'
2. Butterfly (Reborn)
4. My Night
5. Out of Control
6. X Song
7. License to Love
8. Musical in Life
9. Love You More
11. Hello Hello
12. I Hate That Word
13. Love Breath
Junsu, better known as XIA of JYJ, has just dropped his third solo release. Already known for his singer-songwriter abilities, he had a hand in composing and writing most of the songs on the album. The buzz around the album indicates it encompasses a variety of styles from urban dance to hip hop to ballads.
The album starts off leisurely with "Reach," a rather standard ballad with, unfortunately, standard lyrics. The faux orchestra, high notes, extended vocal sustains, a format that hasn't changed much since the '70s. There was also some hints of the late balladeer Whitney Houston, which didn't endear the song to me any.
"Butterfly (Reborn)" runs in a similar vein to the first track. Junsu does knock it out of the park vocally on the first two tracks, twisting his voice to a vibrato and almost wrenching a tear out with the sincere pain in his voice. Even though it's not my thing at all, I can at least praise what he did right.
"Flower" is an art-house banger with bombastic drums. It starts out with suspense and minimalism, gradually acquiring momentum as it approaches epic with belted bridges and choruses. This is an awesome showcase for Junsu's voice, as powerful as I've ever heard it. There's even some vocal variation with choruses sung by deep-lunged males and females alike, adding to its epic feel and giving it an operatic groove. It's a seriously impressive piece, and I haven't ever heard its like in K-pop. Ever.
The disc slows down once more with "My Night." It's a minimalist piece, sung around a piano and acoustic guitar, not played at the same time. It kind of loses its way and picks up with the guitar, the piano feeling a bit lazy and meandering. The nice thing is Junsu's vocals are clearer here and not buried in overproduction.
"Out Of Control" has a funky groove, and it's almost got a start-stop melody reminiscent of f(x), even more because the vocals are sung in a pretty high pitch. Entirely driven by a high-pitched sinuous synth riff, the only bad part of it is Yang Dong Geun. I've groused about his delivery before, and he does the same thing here: he mumbles. Oh well, it's still better than what I've heard on 'Unpretty Rapstar.'
The next track, "X Song," is even funkier. It has a sweet pace that never lets up and the melody is fairly spare, which works in its favor and brings out the bass nicely. Dok2 keeps the song moving with his vocals interspersed here and there 'til his main part when his rap kills.
"License to Love" is a mid-tempo tune that combines Junsu's earnest vocals with a fairly good beat and enough variation, mixing it up where it could have gotten standard. A nice soft pop track with a snappy melody.
The oddball "Musical in Life" is patterned after show tunes with a jazzy feel that evokes Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Junsu croons along to a mellow horn and sounds for all the world like a lounge singer. And I think that was the intent. It's one of the most successful retro attempts I've heard to date.
"Love You More" is a guitar-driven mid-tempo ballad. I like it as a chugging beat and his fervent, heartfelt vocals help the feel nicely. It's sweetly sung and one more example of a ballad done right.
"F.L.P." cranks up the beat. The title is presumably an acronym for the chorus "feels like paradise." It's a naughty little tune, and XIA morphs his voice to fit the bad boy attitude of this song. I love the extra vocals in here; the deep-voiced "heys" and "whoooaas" help this track pop. This song is sleek and tight, danceable and beat-laden.
"Hello Hello" has a smooth clarinet and is a soft jazz number. His capable croons are very well done here, and it's good enough to drop into a smooth jazz station and you wouldn't know the difference. A nice departure from K-Pop here.
"I Hate That Word" starts out well, but about halfway through, they drown his voice in gusty orchestral strings that threaten to overwhelm his vocals. He's got a decent enough voice where he doesn't need anything extra. "Hello Hello" got it right. As to the word he hates? I can guess at "breakup," since the rough translation gave me a fail in that area (I don't think "Alaska" is it).
Yeah, that's how I felt looking at the translation
"Love Breath" is a soothing ballad, a nice closer to the album. It's got sort of a lullaby feel to it, something sung to put you to sleep, and I'm hoping that was the intent. Junsu's expressive voice shines here.
This is a pretty nice piece of pop. And the press was right -- there are a variety of styles on this album, so many it's a bit difficult to pin down to any one genre. Don't be fooled by my sarcasm and nitpicking; it's a pretty solid album and a worthy addition to any Junsu fan's collection.
You can sum up the MV in one word: amazing. I've raved about the track, but I can't say enough good things about the video.
Apparently the director was not blind to the epic feel of the tune as we have a tyrannical ruler who lives in an opulent palace vs. the mutants who live outside in a blasted wasteland like animals. The ruler is dispatched when a cyborg head is melted down and he drinks the molten metal and consumed from within by fire.
The opulence of the costumes and the set design is better than I can describe it. XIA plays many parts here, which I like. A simple change of hair and clothes (and maybe a wig) is enough to convince one of multiple characters. The palace sits alone on a dark mountain, the one piece of color in that volcano-grey waste. It almost reminds one of Mount Olympus except for the whole mutant-cyborg thing.
The dancing is well done too. The dancers are perfectly in sync, and the moves look sufficiently challenging. Whatever the people involved intended, it's a virtual feast for the eyes.