Shinhwa are best known as the longest surviving K-pop boy band in history and have gained great popularity over the years. Since debuting back in 1998 under SM Entertainment, they have each made separate moves as solo artists, variety guests and actors but have fiercely held on to remain a six member group.
The members have been through many hardships together (such as the group’s shifts to different entertainment companies) and despite each member finding great success on their own, have all spoken up about their wish to remain as one unit forever.
After a four year hiatus, in which all members completed their mandatory military service, the group has returned to the scene with their 10th album entitled “THE RETURN” (Bet you can’t guess why they chose that title!)
In an industry now littered with countless Idol boy-groups (many of whom cite Shinhwa as one of their main influences), and the fact that most of these new boys do not even break the 20 year old barrier, will these K-pop veterans be able to use their advanced, knowledge and great wealth of experience to help them make their mark once more?
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Track One: On the Road
Opening the album is an incredibly soft song with quite a distinct Brit-Pop flavour in its use of acoustic guitar. I am struck by how different this track sounds to your standard (and stereotypical) K-pop offering. It is a song about coming through hardships and the security you feel when you have someone close by that constantly supports you. Even though I really want to steer away from the fact that Shinhwa are clearly older than most groups (they are by no means old, and it annoys me when people dwell on things like age in K-pop groups), I feel that their age adds more weight of authenticity to a song like this. You can really feel the emotion behind the strong vocals, it seems more like they understand what they sing about (unlike Justin Bieber…sorry, I digress!)
UK Potential 2/5: The very British style of this song would fit in well to the UK chart, but it is not offering anything incredibly new to the UK audience. I feel that Shinhwa would need to be established here already if they were to release this track.
Track Two: Hurts
As soon as I started to listen to this song, I felt my face grimace at the cheesy ballad beat that is reminiscent of so many boy bands. Personally, I am not that into ballads anyway, and this did it no favours.
However, each of the members show their very strong vocal ability and make the song something that you can just relax to and take in slowly. You can really hear the talent of every single member, which I think is something that a lot of the newer idol groups can neglect to show.
I have only recently looked into Shinhwa and every time I hear Junjin’s (and also sometime Andy’s) rap parts, MBLAQ’s Mir jumps to my mind. They all sound incredibly similar and you can also see that Shinhwa has probably influenced MBLAQ quite a lot in the way that their songs are composed.
UK Potential 3/5: Despite the cheesiness, the English used in this track is very well and clearly pronounced and Junjin and Eric’s rap parts add a gravelly edginess that I think would go down well with British listeners. Again though, I feel it is a song that is better left to be released when they would be more established in the UK.
Track Three: Venus
It is clear to see why this track was chosen to be the first release from their comeback album. It is an electronic dance track with and infectious beat and chorus that will have you dancing around after the very first play.
The end of the track even features a dubstep-sounding twist that helps to show that Shinhwa has their finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary music scenes.
The choreography along with this song really impressed me. I can now see why this group has always been known as one of the best in the dancing category.
The moves encourage you to get up and try them for yourself (with little success, if you are me), but still remain very technical and speedy. All six members look incredibly handsome in stylish outfits and manage to pull off some sexy moves without going over the top and making you cringe.
UK Potential 4/5: I could really see this song being played on UK music channels. It is not that far from what the likes of Rihanna may offer us and I think their style in suits makes them fashionable and smart (although, I think the all white outfits featured were pushing the boy band factor a bit too much). The UK audience currently tends to like a boy band that looks completely different to what the 90s offered us, and I think Shinhwa could deliver that (but seriously, ditch the all white outfits first!)
Track Four: Red Carpet
Here, we have a song that is even heavier on the electronic sounds. It is another tune that makes you want to dance and it really seems like it was composed specifically for the nightclub. Personally though, I don’t think it offered anything very new or refreshing for the ears. It seems to pedal a lot of the clichés (that you go out clubbing and you have a good time etc.). It definitely shows the group is up to date as I can easily imagine any of the younger K-pop groups singing this song…but that’s just it – it’s not very original!
UK Potential 3/5: It has that very globally understandable message of letting one’s hair down and I do think it could do pretty well if it was released over here. But I like the fact that K-pop groups often have the ability to really impress you and make you say “wow!” and I’m afraid this track just doesn’t.
Track Five: Move with Me
This track has a definite Spanish feel to it and the lyrics really communicate a sensual message. The English in this song is very good and this means that the song has very easily stuck itself inside my head.
The vocals are very smooth and the rap parts coincide well with the relaxed beat. To be honest, I feel this song has a little bit of cheesiness to it that I cannot get over to allow me to really enjoy this song. However, it does seem like a track that would continue to grow on you after a few listens, so that may not be a problem for so long!
UK Potential 2/5: This song is quite similar to few that Justin Timberlake has produced and I can see the rhythm and soft vocals being quite popular to a Western audience. However, I can’t help but feel that Shinhwa are above a song like this in the fact that they each have great talent. Generally, I think they can (and have) produce(d) better material than this.
Track Six: Let It Go
The “plink-plonk” piano used in this track gives it a very relaxed feel, it’s the sort of song you can just chill out to or have on in the background. The stark contrast given in the strong vocals and fast rap verses over a pulsating and slightly rock-sounding beat help to make it interesting. You can feel a lot of emotion in the lyrics, and even if you are someone who is not a fluent Korean speaker, you will be really able to feel the sadness they are communicating.
UK Potential 2/5: Even though this song has a very relatable message in the need to let something go and move on. I still don’t think it has that certain something that would be able to break into the UK market. However, the English used is very clear and well-pronounced again.
Track Seven: Stay
Here is another track that has a heavy electronic club beat that causes you to be thrown right into the midst of the song. It is a welcome relief from the slow, relaxed and slightly sad tone of the last track. I think that most people will find themselves bouncing along to this song regardless of their K-pop tastes. It sounds like it is specifically designed for live performances as it lifts your mood and encourages you to join in and sing-along to the English hook lines. This song actually reminds me of BEAST’s Freeze (from their “Fiction and Fact” album) as they definitely have a similar flavour in their electronic bleeps and strong vocal presence.
UK Pontential 3/5: A UK audience would probably appreciate the clubby vibe that the tracks resonates, however the overall feel of the song may be too sugary sweet and happy for a lot of UK fans to honestly admit to liking!
Track Eight: Welcome
Another dance track is offered here. However, I think it is the vocals that make this song what it is more than the its beat. The members’ vocals are very natural sounding which may be a good change for K-pop fans that are not so into the auto tune. There is an awful lot of English used in this song, which I think helps it to hold a good chance of success over here if the group were to choose to release in the United Kingdom.
UK Potential 4/5: The song is upbeat and very catchy. It has the feeling of a song that will infect you and get stuck in your head after just a few listens. The English used is very good and the rap is fast a slick as always.
Track Nine: Be My Love
This song offers a completely contrasting feel when compared to the rest of the album thus far. It would fit very well into the Disco genre and one can imagine a music video for this track being full to the brim with sequins and sparkle. Yes, it is a pretty cheesy song but I found myself smiling as I listened to it. Once again, the members’ English is quite good and relatively easy to understand. I’m sure most K-pop fans would be able to look past the cheesiness of this song in order to have a good dance.
UK Potential 1/5: I don’t think the disco genre has been truly alive in the UK music scene since the glory days of ABBA and The Bee Gees. Even though the English is pretty good, I don’t think it would do very well here.
Track Ten: Re-Love
This songs screams stereotypical ballad in every single fibre of its being, and it really does not excite me in any way. Having said that, I have to say that Shinhwa do ballads very well and one can really tell that they are not afraid to belt out some difficult notes. It can be argued that idol groups truly show if they are worth their salt when they tackle ballads and I can say that Shinhwa are definitely proving that they still hold all the talent they have become known for.
UK Potential 2/5: I think this is too soppy to make a mark in the UK mainstream, but it would be a good song to show the people who believe that K-pop artists are all just manufactured corporate puppets that aren’t very talented. (*cough* like Britney Spears *cough*) 😛
Track Eleven: Breathin’
The final song on this album really is a powerful and beautiful track. It is easy to see why the group chose to end the album with this. The beat carries on throughout the song with a constant strength and the hook line: “Just keep breathin’” really puts across the message that one should keep fighting and carrying on in life. I feel that Shinhwa’s long history puts so much gravity behind this message, they have pushed on through a lot of hardships through the years and are aware that there are still fans – old and new – hanging on and supporting them.
UK Potential 2/5: I take this song as a very strong dedication by the group to their fandom – Shinhwa Chanjos as they are known – for supporting them. Therefore, I feel that this song would not translate well to a UK audience without the context.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a limited edition version of the album, you won’t be disappointed. It comes complete in a large hardback box decorated with the album artwork. The box contains the CD and a A4 Photobook featuring all the Shinhwa members. The only downside is the fact that the album CD is contained in a standard plastic CD casing, where thick cardoard may have proved to be sturdier and more durable to those of us that accidentally drop things on a regular basis!
For the standard version, there is the option to have a Shinhwa poster, as is common for the vast majority of K-pop albums.
It is clear to see that Shinhwa are not exactly treading brand new and untouched ground here. Personally, I only like some tracks on this album. However, it could be said that the group were not attempting to come out with anything shocking and never seen before.
As one of the pioneering groups in the most modern variation of K-pop, the members are working hard to show their gratitude to their pre-exisiting fanbase whilst trying to catch the attention of some relative K-pop newbies.
Personally, I think they do this very well.
Shinhwa are known as some of the most frequent and daring concept changers and this album brings a very mature and stylish feel.
We can see these talented members express themselves in this album and this offering has helped me to become a lot more open-minded when looking at the K-pop groups that came before the 21st century!
One hopes that they can continue this level of success for many more years to perhaps reassure younger idols that their days on stage are over after they hit 30. Also, if you are a fan of groups such as MBLAQ and BEAST, I certainly recommend that you give this album a listen.
It is debatable that Shinhwa would gain a very high level of success in the UK, however they are more than welcome to prove me wrong.
What do you think? Do you agree with our review? Let us know in the comments
[Image Source: Google Images]