Wednesday, 16 January 2013

[ALBUM REVIEW] A K-Pop Superstar's Japanese Debut Album Shows Unlimited Potential

All opinions are my own and I have a right to them. Please try to respect that and I'll be glad to do the same for you~!
My favourite of all this album's covers - it's bloody gorgeous!
Kim Hyun Joong means serious business, he's made that clear already. Prior to his solo Japanese debut, he was only, what, one the biggest stars in the whole of East Asia? Honestly, this man is adored in many a country and, as such, it came as no surprise that his first Japanese single was met with great success, shooting straight to #2 on the Oricon Weekly chart, a feat rarely achieved by a freshly debuted K-Pop artist in Japan. Admittedly, he had already appeared on the Oricon Top 5 during his time as leader of the now comatose, for want of a better phrase, quintet, SS501. However, the last single they ever released in Japan was released in the Summer of 2008 which was a good while before the Halyuu Wave had its big boom, anyway, meaning that K-Pop groups were possibly more of a novelty anyway. His second single, however, had no trouble topping the Oricon Weekly chart, even with Johnny's Entertainment's [adult] ace, Yamashita Tomohisa. This was the first time in Yamapi's entire career as a recording artist (which started in 2005) that he failed to top the Oricon Weekly (though he did make it to #2). Now, really, for a K-Pop artist, that really is something, considering Yamapi's popularity. However, my mum did suggest, jokingly of course, that people just got the two of them muddled up, seeing as she's still learning to tell the two apart - You can't blame her too much, can you? Seeing as she's not that familiar with the two of them yet. Though, that being said, she's learned to identify Yamapi as the one who 'looks like he has a bad smell under his nose'.

HyunJoong (left) and Yamapi (right) - just for comparison's sake
Anyway, that aside, Hyun Joong eventually released his first Japanese album, which was also his first full-length album as a solo artist. The album went straight to #1 on the Oricon Daily and #3 on the Oricon Weekly, which, granted, is still impressive. Tohoshinki (or TVXQ, but we're talking about Oricon here), the king of Hanryuu Star Wave groups, only managed to get #4 for their debut album (though, that was back in 2006 which was a fair bit before the recent boom). So, really, it can't be denied that there's a lot to expect from HyunJoong in the future.
As such, I'll be reviewing the afore-mentioned album, titled 'UNLIMITED'. The album mainly features previously-released Japanese remakes of tracks from his two Korean mini-albums and one remade single track, but it also has the two tracks from his second single as well as a few original tracks made specifically for the album. So, without further ado, let's have a listen~

1. Save Today

This song is one of the two tracks chosen to promote the album and, as such, was given a video, which I didn't know when I first heard the album. At that point, I only knew that Your Story had a video, yet I did have a feeling that, if  any other song were to have a video, for whatever reason, it would surely be this one. The video, to be perfectly honest, confuses me, so, seeing as this is an album review and not a video review anyway, I'll set that train of thought aside for now and focus on the song isntead.
Anyway, aside from HEAT (which quickly became my favourite of all HyunJoong's songs), this is my favourite track of the album. The song has a sort of soft-rock feel with a bit of a pop essence, reaching closer to HyunJoong's musical roots, seeing as he started out with a school rock band (that went pretty much nowhere but that's beyond the point), as he seems to be doing a little more with his Japanese releases as opposed to his Korean ones. Fortunately, I do love it when my favourite artists go for this kind of style. Actually, this might sound odd, but I think this particular sound is very Japanese in its own way. It's quite similar, in a sense, to the style of some J-Rock bands (not the Visual Kei variety, the other end of the J-Rock spectrum), only, possibly, softer.
The song is pretty catchy and quite easy to get lost in, I find. It's a very good song for looking at the scenery zoom past when you're on a drive, actually. That may sound stupid but I can assure you that it's true. When I went down to London last month, this song got a lot of listens and it always had the best effect on me in such situations, particularly when I was on the Tube and it was travelling along the Overground parts. That image has been pretty much welded into my mind and it kind of lingers whenever I listen to this song, with the brown flats, green plants and silver pillars of metal kind of fading in and out of my mind's eye. I know that sounds really, really cheesy but it's true. And it's a nice image. Though, that has squat to do with the song itself.
It's a gorgeous song, though, and it seriously compliments Hyun Joong's voice. He suits this kind of song, really.

2. Let's Party

This track is the B-Side to HyunJoong's second Japanese single, HEAT and, to tell the truth, I'm not huge on it. It's listenable and, as such, I will listen to it but it's not a favourite song of mine. It's my least favourite track on the album. I don't mind the chorus at all, even if it is properly cheesy-sounding, but the verses aren't as much to my tastes somehow. I think it's the autotune that's at fault here - I'm not too fond on this kind of autotune, though, I can tolerate it quite easy. It's a catchy song, that I won't deny it. It's just an explosion of cheese - dancy cheese. It's very...well, to me, it seems awfully 90's-esque, as in 90's Brit-pop, in parts, and, well, 90's Britpop is extremely cheesy, almost to a fault. Though, that being said, it may just be me, considering I can still enjoy the song. It's a nice enough song, don't get me wrong, I don't dislike it, but, it's not necessarily my thing. I think it's probably an okay song but it doesn't match up with my personal tastes, if you know what I mean? However, the chants in the build-up to the choruses definitely have my approval.

3. U (Japanese version)

This track was originally a track on the Lucky min-album, and this version was a B-Side on he Kiss Kiss (Japanese version) single. The werid thing about this song is that the Korean version never caught my attention and I was never in the mood to listen to it, it just didn't work for me, yet, somehow, I really like the Japanese version. That being said, I did give the Korean version and other listen, and it is definitely a nice song regardless of the language. But, somehow, the Korean version never hit me in the right way, while the Japanese version did. I do like the sound of the Korean language but I feel that, maybe, the Japanese language lends itself more to this song.
It's a very pretty little song and it's very calming. The reverb in this track is quite heavy, adding a kind of almost angelic feel to the song, if you get what I mean. This song just glows in a strange way; it's quite fantastical in its own perculiar manner. It's the sort of song that drags you in to its own little world. I also like that it's such a soft and peaceful song but, even so, something about the chorus is powerful. On top of that, in terms of emotion, this is one of Hyun Joong's best songs. I actually think the emotion in the Japanese version is stronger than the original but, also, the Japanese is quite simple so I can understand a lot of it...and that always helps.
I do have a habit, though, of hearing the very start of the song and suddenly deciding it's actually SS501's Everything. Oops. Well, at least they're connected - it could be worse.

4. Kiss Kiss (Japanese version)

Originally one of the promo tracks of Hyun Joong's first solo mini-album, Break Down, this version was used as his first Japanese single. First off, before I get on to the song itself, I must say that I by far prefer the Japanese PV to the Korean MV. I'm sure if I were one of the fans who got to meet him (though, I don't live in anything like the right country for that), my stance on the matter might be different. However, I'm not, so I have little emotional attatchment to the MV - the PV's just a better and more interesting video.
This was always my least favourite track on Break Down, but that was a mini-album I absolutley adored in every aspect. As such, I've always, from the moment I heard it, loved this song. Honestly, I hoped that he would have debuted in Japan with Please but, seeing as it already had a proper MV and was the first song to be promoted, using Kiss Kiss made more sense than using it - same with Break Down. Kiss Kiss made sense. On on top of that, a lot of male K-Pop artists have debuted in Japan with tracks all of a similar genre (not all, obviously, I know that), so, I guess that using this song, which is slightly less typically K-Pop, allowed Hyun Joong to stand out a little.
The song itself has a really sweet sound and it's very upbeat. It's a song that works well with Hyun Joong's voice and I mean really well. The Japanese lyrics also sound really good and flow really well with the song. In fact, when choosing the tracks for this review on Korean-to-Japanese tracks, this track was very nearly 5th place. It just missed out and only made it to 6th place. They don't sound stilted at all and, in some parts, they have a similar sound to them to the original lyrics. The lyrics also match the beat in a certain way that makes them really catchy and memorable. And, of course, the song itself is really catchy - even when I listened to this whole album at once, the song that stuck in my head for the rest of the next was this!

5. I'm Yours

Putting aside the grammatical error in the title, this is a nice song. It's nice to hear Hyun Joong singing in a lower pitch, as a lot of his songs are higher. This song actually reminds me another one, in terms of style, but I can't remember for the life of me what it is. Or KAT-TUN, if it the backtrack were a little lower. It's not a Hyun Joong song, though. Something tells me the song is somehow related to KAT-TUN NEWS but I haven't got a clue. Though, that being said, I could imagine Yamapi singing it, almost. It's a song with a somewhat fast tempo despite its tone; it's not exactly an upbeat song. It's a dark song, figuratively speaking. If there was a PV, I'd expect it to have a darker colour scheme. In fact, it does seem like a song that could do with a PV, granted said PV had plenty of drama scenes and emotional stuff. That would be perfect for this song.
The melody is nice, though, the verses aren't the most memorable. It doesn't matter all that much, though, as they're still really nice to listen to. The chorus is a lot memorable, though, and has a nice, emotional feel to it. I'm not kidding, I really love the chorus, particularly the 'ano hi no you ni' line - the melody and the way his voice sounds at those parts is really nice. The bridge is also great. Probably just cause I love that kind of 'tune changes for a bit, everything stops, line that increases in emotion, pause for effect, everything starts again' thing - maybe because they show up in a lot of KAT-TUN tracks...

6. Your Story

This song is the other promo track for this album in that it got a PV and was used in the adverts for the album. The PV is really nice and...-cough- Hyun Joong looks fantastic.
That aside, I really like this song and it's one of my favourites on the album. I absolutely love how Hyun Joong's voice sounds - he really suits this genre, that kind of soft-rock with a poppy touch. Sometimes, I feel like his voice doesn't actually blend perfectly with the music, but that's probably just cause his voice is a little on the husky side, or, well, it's slightly raspy in a way. Sort of. But, it doesn't make a difference, really, and it's only like that in the verses. His voice fits perfectly with everything in the chorus! Honestly, I do think that Hyun Joong needs to keep doing more songs like this. The chorus is also really memorable  and a little infectious. The arrangement and melody are both absolutely brilliant, too.
My favourite part of this song, as much as I love every last part of it, is the final 'hanasanai yo' line - the way he holds that last note is absolutely gorgeous!

7. Boku wa Kimi no Mono (Japanese Version)

This song was originally a track on the Lucky mini-album be honest, I forgot that until now. I have heard it before and I do actually have it on my MP3 Player (though, it's name is in Korean), I'm just an idiot. I haven't heard the Korean version enough to make an educated comparison, though. However, the names of the two tracks are actually different; the Korean version is called Naneun ne Namja ya (trans; I'm Your Man, which is what most people know it as, for some reason, K-Pop songs get referred to by their translation) while the Japanese version's title translates as 'I'm Your's' - okay, it's really not that different but still. Though, it does mean that there are basically two tracks on this album with the same name.
Anyway, this track is a ballad, as most albums seem to have (at least, in Japan?). Well, anyway, I think a good ballad is always compulsory in an album. This isn't one of the most memorable ballads I've ever heard but it is still a very pretty track and HyunJoong sounds really great. This is also the only track on the album, aside from HEAT, not to have Steven Lee working on it, so, in a way, it's got a change in feel to it. What I also like is that this song is the halfway point of the album - it's like a peaceful little rest in the middle of the CD. It's a nice effect.

8. Marry Me (Japanese Version)

This song was originally part of a single which had two tracks; 'Marry Me' and 'Marry You'. There was some kind of special concept, like one was the man's song and one was the woman's, or something like that but I can't fully remember what it was.
I'll say it straight out - this is my second least favourite track on the album. Don't get me wrong, I love the song, I really do. I just don't like the double voice effect in the chorus, which is a shame because I love the melody in those parts, as well as the falsetto notes. With what little Japanese knowledge I possess, I can tell that the lyrics to this song are quite sweet, though, maybe a little cheesy. By my standards. I'm not big on all that stuff, generally. No dislike, mind you.
This song isn't necessarily the most memorable out there, though, proved by the fact that I forgot what the original sounded like until I heard this version. If you're more into this style of song than I am, though, it's actually really good and I would recommend it seconds. It's a good song!

9. Lucky Guy (Japanese Version)

This was originally the main track for the mini-album, Lucky, and was my favourite of Hyun Joong's songs until HEAT came along. This version was the other promo track of the Japanese debut single, KISS KISS. However, the Japanese version, though I do like it and it is one of my favourite tracks on the album, does not do the original justice. Where the Japanese version does win, though, is the PV, though, that's mainly because it doesn't have that random god awful scene with the woman fixing a car in a bikini. Ugh.
The added sound effects of this version don't really help the song in anyway whatsoever and, seeing as I'm so used to the original, just sound stuck on. I actually did a review of the original song back in 2011, but since I sound like an idiot there, I'll just some up how I feel about the song in general. Obviously, I love the rest of the song - the melody, the tone, the arrangement, it's all perfect. It's a really fun song and I was totally drawn in by that. Also, it's ridiculously infectious and super memorable.

10. Break Down (ft. Double K) (Japanese Version)

This was originally one of the promo tracks (and the titular track) for HyunJoong's first mini-album, with this version first appearing on the KISS KISS single. Personally, I don't like this version as much as the original, purely because I don't think the lyrics work as well, and a lot of it's to do with the fact that I don't think the Japanese language lends itself as well to this song. Well, actually, it seems like it might do if you were a native Japanese speaker since a lot of it's to do with the fact that lyrics of the original are quite clipped-sounding (I don't mean edited, though). Due to HyunJoong's strong accent, that kind of sharpness doesn't work as well with Japanese. It probably wouldn't work as well if a nativer speaker sung this song but it might have worked better, if you know what I mean. That being said, I don't think it's bad. No way. It's still good and HyunJoong has really good pronunciation, but, I think the song just sounds better in Korean. It sounds cooler like that.
As for the song itself, the original is probably my third favourite HyunJoong song. I really do love this song, I just think it sounds really cool. And, even in Korean, the lyrics are memorable and catchy, especially combined with the infectious melody of the chorus. It's quite a down-key song, but it's still up-tempo and it's a really nice combo. The arrangement of the song works really well, too, and I seriously love all the different layers of vocals, with all the adlibs in the background. And Double K's rap sounds really good. I don't actually know he is aside from this song, but his rap compliments the song boody well.

11. HEAT

Originally the A-side of HyunJoong's second Japanese single, the one that kicked Yamapi's poor little butt, this is my favourite of all HyunJoong's songs, hands-down. This song was created by B'z, with one member doing music and the other doing lyrics - actually, it was Tak who did the music. I only know one other song with music by Tak, seeing as I don't listen to B'z, and it was KAT-TUN's debut single Real Face, which is one of my all-time favourite songs. I feel like giving B'z a listen would make sense now...
But, yeah, I suppose, based on the rest of the review, that it's no secret that I'm a fool for rocky songs with a poppy feel to them and that's exactly what this song is. The tune is really infectious, it gets stuck in your head really quickly. Well, not quite, but it is an easy tune to learn after a few listens. The lyrics are pretty easy to remember, too. I seem to remember more of the words than I thought I did!
But, really, it is my favourite HyunJoong song by a flying long-shot, though, it seems that I can't fully explain why. It's was so drawn in by it from the moment I heard it! It's catchy, memorable and really cool. For me, it ticks a load of boxes! And, on top of that, it seems to be a perfect song for HyunJoong's voice and singing style. I really want to see him tackle more songs like this.
It might seem like an odd song, though, because it is not a typical K-Pop song. It's actually very Japanese-sounding, if that makes sense. But that can probably be attributed to the fact that it was produced by one of the most legendary bands in Japan. But, really, even if you don't like K-Pop, if you're a J-Music fan, this song could appeal to you. I don't know if it sat well with all the K-Pop fans out there, though, but I don't assume it did too much of the opposite. So, yeah, it's a song with a lot of appeal, I'd say.
All in all, I think it's pretty clear that I adore this album. Really, a lot of this review seemed to be a rant about how good the song was. But, really, I did expect this album to be good. I can't tell if it surpassed my expectations or not, though. I do love the album and I think it's really good but the fact that there was only a few new songs kind of let it down a little. Rather than including B-Sides in the album, it would have been nice to see some fresh stuff, but, this still sounds brilliant just like this!

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