K-POP / REVIEWS

[Review] [Album] Lee Hyori – ‘Monochrome’

2013_lee hyori_monochrome

written by: rickyom
Artist and Album: Lee Hyori – ‘Monochrome’
Genre: Pop
Release Date: May 21, 2013

After 2011’s ‘H-Logic’ blunder that came with huge accounts of plagiarism, Lee Hyori took a break to compose herself musically and socially, attempting to rebuild her status through donations and awareness causes. Two years later, she finally releases her highly anticipated 5th album ‘Monochrome’, putting forth her best effort while going in a musically different direction than her past albums.

“Holly Jolly Bus” starts out the release and gives a clear idea of what the whole concept of the album is actually about. Going in a more subtle big band style that has rarely been tackled so mainstream. She keeps her comedic self known through her variety show appearances, even adding in her adopted dog Soonshim in the song as well as titling the track as featuring her canine companion. It’s the more fun song out of the album.

“Miss Korea” is a very laid-back song designed to show Hyori’s vocals in a more elegant way than they actually are and she pulls it off. Her vocals favorably pull the song forward and act as more of a beat than the actual background track. That’s how stripped down it seems. “Love Radar” keeps it slow but puts the song’s era in a light disco time. Her vocals put “Miss Korea” as a better song, yet here they seem to lack and let the backing track pull the song forward. The rap feature from Beenzino is short and slightly sweet, greatly accompanying Hyori’s light vocal delivery.

“Bad Girls” keeps the seriousness of the two preluding tracks but adds in a more upbeat play. The piano is greatly interpreted, keeping it slow during the verses and really speeding it up during the chorus. Even the electric guitar in the second half of the chorus finds a way to make it work without making it seem too outgoing. It’s a well grounded dance track especially considering that her past title songs were a lot about the synths and electronic beats.

“내가 미워요” slows it down once again but not in a good way. This track is a very nice blend of tracks 2 and 3, but keeps its own. Her vocal delivery in the later half keeps us hoping for something more but doesn’t actually follows through. It actually sounds like she was scared to go that one note higher and pulled it down an octave lower instead. A rookie move compared to her veteran status.

Tracks 6 (사랑의 부도수표) and 12 (묻지 않을게요) serve as the interludes. They’re short and quirky. Quirky as in being country-flavored, something that doesn’t fit with the album’s overall theme. Here’s the twist though – Hyori’s voice actually works almost a little too well on the old country styled tracks. Her vocals are even better on these interludes than some of the ballads on the entire album; an unexpected, yet really well done treat.

Things pick up once again with “Full Moon” going with the big band direction. She knows where to place her vocals and where to let the track do the talking; leaving quips here and there where the band displays why this is such a high quality track. “Trust Me” follows right after, bringing the album to a midtempo. You’d probably expect Hyori to be drowned out among such an abundance of instruments (that aren’t really heard in the other tracks), but she pulls it out strong where the instruments are stripped and you only hear the singer doing her vocal runs. “Trust Me” is probably the most unique track of the album.

Another track that slightly sticks out is “Special”, one of the more pop-ier tracks on the album. From the way Hyori sings to the fun composition, you can tell that this is closest in style to her past title songs, making it a strong contender on the album. By this time in the album I would’ve gotten bored, but “Special” is so special that it revived my will to finish this monster (Phew!).

Now, onto the glorious ballad “Amor Mio”. Why is it glorious? Well, it’s the only ballad on the album that actually screams ballad. From Hyori’s riveting vocal performance to featuring artist Park Ji Young‘s powerful verses, this track is a dueling give and take that is literally tantalizing to hear and impossible to forget. Hyori sings in a way that actually sounds like she’s scared, which goes along well with how dark the piano accompaniment is. Ji Young’s deliverance is more composed, much like that of how strong a man in a relationship should be. As the track continues it slowly builds while also going into a much darker lover’s quarrel. When the middle eight hits, the harmonization is almost too beautiful to digest. Hyori’s vocals are hard to believe are that amazing, but along with Ji Young she sounds like the most outstanding balladeer. “Amor Mio” finishes so deep in a darkness, that it’s actually gorgeous.

Things start to head downhill when “누군가” plays. The composition is slightly tedious, as if it was already played on this album before. One thing I do like is Hyori’s build up leading to the chorus. The verses fall flat while the chorus is done as basic as Hyori can go. I will commend them for trying to include such a tango-influenced track: it fits the album’s theme while once again adding its own flavor. “미쳐” stays on the same level. While keeping with the theme, it adds a narration by An Young Mi to more or less characterize it as its own track. However it’s not a favorite track of mine.

The last three tracks begins with “쇼쇼쇼”. The arrangement of guitar is continuously on repeat, becoming very drab before the song even hits its midmark. With slight piano inclusion here and there along with a bass, it’s like the song was done by an amateur. There’s no excitement in the song – even “Amor Mio” had excitement. “Better Together” picks things up, though the composition may seem slightly annoying at first. Starting out as a song that should be a crowd pleaser, chanting in boot camp style. But as soon as Hyori sings, it’s almost the opposite. Where it should sound fun, she just sounds tired. Then it kicks into an indie-esque vocalisation. At this point you can tell it’s a song that really builds up, especially when the strings hit. But when the chorus hits, she goes into pop vocals. This track really gives its ups and downs, and its official that this track could go just about anywhere. Sadly it just repeats in the same motion bringing no real climax to a song that sounded like it would have one.

And finally the last track comes in the form of “노”, a beautiful modern-rock style song. It’s much different from the overall album’s style, and it’s a track that would probably suit another soloist’s style: Younha. Hyori gives her crack at it and delivers. The composition itself is alluring, much like “Amor Mio”. The background vocals in the latter half of the track are stunning under Hyori’s calm gentle tone. Whereas the tracks following “Amor Mio” didn’t really deliver impact, “노” ended the album on a real enticing note.

==

Hyori’s ‘Monochrome’ set out to feed hungry fans high on anticipation and more or less delivered. The album as a whole had a real distinct theme set for itself. Some of the tracks really came off as copies of others while adding in components that the other tracks didn’t have. Which is why the second half disappointed me more than the first. And even though the style was really similar between each track, each song had its own color and flavor (aside from a few).

In other words, a ‘Monochrome’ collection.

==

Scorecard

Holly Jolly Bus
.75
Miss Korea
1
Love Radar
.75
Bad Girls
1
내가 미워요
.5
사랑의 부도수표
.75
Full Moon
1
Trust Me
.75
Special
.75
Amor Mio
1
누군가
.5
묻지 않을게요
.75
미쳐
.5
Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
쇼쇼쇼
0
Better Together
.5
1
Total Points
11.5

Points to stars conversion: [(11.5/16) x 5] + 0.25*

3.8/5


*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.

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