Returning to the stage after two years, here’s what to expect from Super Junior’s latest album, PLAY.
K-pop legendary super group, Super Junior celebrates the group’s 12th year in the industry with their new album, PLAY.
It hasn’t been easy for Super Junior, especially in the months leading up to their comeback. Criticisms surrounding PLAY for its similarities to Bruno Mars’ latest album 24K Magic certainly doesn’t help. Fortunately, despite all the setbacks they’ve been through, PLAY consists of 10 well produced, cohesive and uniquely Super Junior songs.
The album is highly influenced by old-school R&B and synth funk. Flaunting clean and uplifting tracks, PLAY is Super Junior’s most cohesive album yet. Surprised? Not really. Super Junior multi-talented members are known for their substantial involvement in music production. This time members like Lee Donghae and Eunhyuk – who seem to only get better at presenting music that are distinctively Super Junior; are back to wow us with their lyrics writing and music producing.
All biasness aside, we could see why PLAY is associated with Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic. And, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it may be common for idol groups in the K-pop scene to be experimenting with western music and its hall-of-fame; no one has been bold enough to channel western’s old-school funk as cohesively throughout the album as Super Junior.
Considering the rarity, we find it refreshing to see the group channeling their inner Prince with a contemporary K-pop twist. Bear in mind, combining the prevalent K-pop structure with the prominent international music production is no easy task. It’s something only legendary musicians are capable of.
The album kicks off with title track “Black Suit”, which has already slain iTunes charts in 23 countries. It’s no surprise, really. “Black Suit” has all the elements that make a good title track. It effortlessly captivates listeners with its unique composition by combining the use of stellar jazz instruments, such as saxophone, with highly addictive electronic dance beats.
The title track starts out suspenseful and later escalates with explicitly intense synth stabs. The jazzy flair combined with lead vocalist Yesung’s distinctive vocal, give “Black Suit” an explosion of energy – highlighting its extraordinary dynamic. We love how the chorus and bridge buildups are clear, bright and captivating as a result. Setting the tone for the album, “Black Suit” is indeed the right choice for PLAY‘s title track.
We are sure that Super Junior will steal your musical heart with title track, “Black Suit”. It is destined to be a tune that will stand through the test of time for your late night grooving.
PLAY steadily progresses with “Scene Stealer”, which energy rivals its title track. Penned by member Lee Hyukjae, popularly known by his stage name Eunhyuk, “Scene Stealer” continues to captivate and maintain the album’s passion with catchy hook, celebratory verses and sassy ad-libs. All of which becomes more impactful when coated with Super Junior auto-tuned vocals. We are sure the track will bring epic dance moves to Super Show stage. Just you wait.
The album slows down a little with a melancholy song, “One More Chance”. The track, which title in Korean directly translates to “Don’t Go Like The Rain”, is one of the tracks from the album that is close to E.L.Fs hearts for its beautiful melody, straightforward approach and moving lyrics.
Composed and produced by member Lee Donghae, the pre-release poignant lyrics depicts one’s wish for a chance to mend a relationship. Considering the setbacks Super Junior has faced and overcome in recent years, the lyrics could also be reflective to the group’s longing to be returned into its original form.
We believe the highlight of this acoustic soft-pop track presents in the Eunhyuk’s loose rap part. We feel that the rapper’s part provides the finishing touches, highlighting the members’ sincerity and emphasizing their yearning.
“One More Chance” or “Don’t Go Like The Rain” is also the rare occasion for a track to showcase each member’s glorious vocals equally. As Super Junior’s two main vocalists, Kyuhyun and Ryeowook, enlisted for their mandatory military service, one might expect a decline in the group’s vocal dynamic and versatility. However, Super Junior proves otherwise. There’s enough vocal variability and colors to keep their music interesting and inspired. Through the emotional ballad we get to better appreciate talents of members like Shindong and Heechul, who don’t usually get many singing parts. Look at behind the scene here.
The relative consistency in sound throughout PLAY resumes with “A Good Day For A Good Day”. Succeeding the style of its title track, the lively track invites listeners to have a good day with its memorable chorus and addictive beats. All of the elements blend really well – from the energetic beats to the fun and vigorous raps; the song is also easy to sing along to. “A Good Day For A Good Day” is another Super Show worthy track.
The unapologetic, dance-able, affirmative composition lasts with “Runaway”. Sustaining the general brassy sound of the 90s R&B and synth funk, the track exhibits an upbeat party tune. “Runaway” benefits from typical K-pop structure, with a decent hook, pleasant buildup and adequate climax. We must say Super Junior boys pull off the loveable approach and cheerful energy of this song really well. Just look at how cute “Runaway” live performance is!
Before continuing to energize listeners with another powerful song, “Spin Up”, the album slows down with “The Lucky Ones” and “Girlfriend”. Despite their catchy choruses, pop tunes and the boys’ excellent harmonization, “The Lucky Ones” and “Girlfriend” unfortunately fall short in comparison to other memorable and inspirational songs before them.
While “The Lucky Ones” lacks varied chorus and bridge buildups, “Girlfriend” unfortunately suffers from a dull hook. Hence, both miss the mark to hold the listeners’ attention. It’s a real pity because both songs are sweet confessions that provide a good break from the loud and bright tracks.
We agree with Eunhyuk, his favorite part in “The Lucky Ones” has pretty fascinating details (refer to the video below). And not to mention his vibrant rap part in “Girlfriend” is refreshing and energetic. With repetitive words like ‘hetkalyo’, it’s easy for fans to catch and sing along to “The Lucky Ones” and “Girlfriend” at concerts, too.
We completely understand why this R&B styled track isn’t for everyone, though. It took us a couple of listens to fall for their lovely lyrics, gentle melodies and soothing vocals. But if you love simplistic music with soft instrumental work, and don’t mind the lack of variation, these are the songs for you.
“Spin Up”, which reliably flaunts the album’s funk, is a fun song compromising funky horns, glorious falsetto and enjoyable rap parts with a twist of modern R&B.
The next track in Super Junior’s 9th studio album is “Too Late”. Smooth chorus, silky piano tune continuing the tone from “The Lucky Ones” and “Girlfriend”. Soothing the ear after the loud “Spin Up”, “Too Late” might again seem uninspired in comparison. The difference is “Too Late” is suspenseful from the start, it buildups nicely to the chorus and consistently sustains its dynamic throughout the song. Similar to “Midnight Blues” from MAMACITA, the song doesn’t quite reach its climax, it is however charming in its own way.
The album wraps up with “I Do”, a bright and affectionate track displaying the members’ sweet love confession. “I Do” starts out soft, gentle and bright, and soon develops into a delightful beat and pop tune that is easy to sing along. Donghae’s sweet vocals ties in with the track really well. And we love how the gentle piano blends well with contemporary dance beat. It feels like every detail is in its correct place. Lovely and meaningful lyrics certainly won our hearts, too.
It might be a stretch to say the track is the Korean equivalent to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”, but boy, what a perfect way to end an album. By the time the 3:31 long track concludes, we want more.
All in all, PLAY is a very enjoyable album. Super Junior’s development in sound and growth as musicians is evident in the album, especially with 2 of their vocalist enlistment and the group’s fundamental involvement in the album production.
We like the versatile direction they take with this comeback. The group shows their musical expertise by displaying enough vocal variability and harmonious details. Despite the challenges they have faced in recent years, PLAY positively echoes Super Junior as group, while upholding their musical style. The relaxed and unrestricted approach to their music is refreshing and fitting in this album. We like how they fill the album with feel-good, celebratory, unapologetic tracks – motivating listeners with their liberty and cheerfulness; something the variety legend is famous for.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
PLAY is out now.