“This review is solely my opinion, written based on my own taste and preferences. I am not a professional music critic, I can be very harsh and biased, please don’t take my reviews too seriously, the most important opinion is your own.”
By RageX @HeartofThe9
TVXQ celebrated their 10 year anniversary with the release of their 7th Korean album ‘TENSE’. It marked a milestone few pop acts reach in their careers, but comes with it the inevitability that this could be the duo’s last project before their military service. With ‘TENSE’, Yunho and Changmin adopted a more lighthearted yet classy style with Swing Jazz influences, moving away from their past “hyper masculine” music driven by thundering bass and electronic sound (although they continue to use a variation of this style in Japan, a la ‘Scream‘). ‘TENSE’ turned out to be one of the most coherent musical efforts, with the funk & jazz flavor and the use of brass instrumentation well intact throughout, it gives the impression of being more “real music” than “idol music”. I was fine with this new approach, even if I regret losing the usual oomph that came with SMP and eletro-dance. This is a mellow album you can listen to for a long time without getting tired or overwhelmed.
Since TVXQ was reinvented as a duo, one style stood out among their impressive repertoire is R&B, something that I think is capable of extending their singing careers by another decade or two if they so choose. It’s no secret I wanted more of it ever since ‘Before U Go’. Subsequent efforts like ‘Destiny‘, ‘Good Night’, and ‘Love Again’ became some of my favorite K-R&Bs. But I always wondered if they can do a more upbeat and “dance-y” take on R&B, something that showcases their superior energy and performing ability, and be sufficiently different from a song like ‘Replay’. Although I could not imagine how it would sound, producer Yoo Young Jin seems to know exactly what I wanted and delivered it in ‘수리수리 (Spellbound)’ – a brilliant mid-tempo contemporary R&B seamlessly integrated with jazzy tones of ‘TENSE’. The key, like any successful R&B, is a crisp and catchy beat, but leaving enough room for the saxophone and trumpets to come through and give the melody personality and depth; the two sides worked to complement each other instead of one dominating the entire song. Completing the picture is the usual excellent vocal arrangement and execution. The verses are delivered in staccato to accentuate the pace, with different ranges and segments designed to highlight both Yunho and Changmin’s voices, and Yoo Young Jin’s own voice chiming in with the “surisurimasuri susuri saba” in between, followed by an alluring chorus and trademark Changmin high note ad-libs. Few mid-tempo ballads/dance-ballads achieve this near perfect blend of elements and maintain a high level of substance and class like ‘Spellbound’.
Perhaps even more impressive is the music video. A typical “SM box” style video in a dazzling poker room setting with dark background and contrasting lines, which I thought was very fitting visually for the music, and shot in a ‘Growl‘-style single take (save two cut scenes). What made the video come alive is the NappyTabs designed choreography (prior work: ‘Humanoids‘, BoA ‘Only One’, GG ‘I Got A Boy’) along with, for the first time in TVXQ’s career, an entirely female dance team. Unlike most dance routines with backup dancers, these girls were not relegated to anonymous background dancing, but instead be a focal point of the performance. Notice their constant eye contact with the camera, and non-stop interactions with the main characters. There was hardly a moment in the verse sections when Yunho or Changmin wasn’t interacting with a single or a group of dancers. Add to that some interesting formations and visual cues to allow Yunho and Changmin to take turns being the lead, as well as a dance break all to themselves. The dance is hot and sharp, with some sensual parts, and some technical parts incorporating tutting and miming; a routine only seasoned veterans like TVXQ can truly pull off, aided in no small part by the decision to let the dancers play almost as big a part as TVXQ themselves. All of these make it endlessly entertaining to watch, and they actually look like they’re having a lot of fun performing it, a rare feat among SM’s typically formulaic videos.
If ‘Spellbound’ turns out to be TVXQ’s last act before their pending hiatus, as a fan, I must admit I’m extremely satisfied and thankful, it’s a song and performance worthy of TVXQ. What better way go out in style than with this A+ effort.
Overall Score: 10/10