Sep 18, 2015

"Lion Heart" Presents Safe And Easy-Going Pop Music, True Girls' Generation Style

Girls' Generation are back with a brand new full album, and have on top of that released not one, not even two but three comeback singles. The first one, "Party" was released in early July and their two other double title tracks were released a little more than a month afterwards. I was reluctant to giving their new album a shot because only one of the three singles have impressed me, and I generally don't love their Korean albums too much. For some reason though I wanted to give the album a fair chance to surprise me, but I can't honestly say it has.

"Lion Heart" is Girls' Generation's first full-length album release since "I Got A Boy" two years ago, and also their first ever album as eight members. Although I miss Jessica and her contributions, because let's face it, her voice was very highlighted in SNSD's general sound; I actually think the group overall has benefited from her absence. At least the members that used to get fewer lines now get to sing many more, so in that way they'v become more of an even team. It's strange it had to go to that extent for something that should be obvious to happen, but better late than never I guess.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser ImagesThe album opens up with "Lion Heart", which is one of the two later title tracks and also shares the same name as the album itself. When I first watched the MV for the song and heard it I fell in love immediately, as there as something about it that just spoke to me. However now that I've listened to it on its own without the video it's definitely not as appealing, which is a shame. I think it shows that than a MV can have a huge effect on how you interpret the song, and while I still like it very much it's not as exciting to listen to by itself.

"Lion Heart" has a very retro sound, and although I can't quite place it I definitely rings of the songs of earlier decades; the 50's or 60's perhaps. The instrumental is especially retro sounding, having an emphasis on a groovy bass line, finger snapping and brass instruments. The vocals are clear and uplifting, and the melody itself is what I find the most enjoyable. I'm not a huge fan of the lyrics however, but those aren't generally SNSD's strongest asset either. All in all I like the song and I certainly think it's their best single out of the three this year.

Next up is "You Think", which is kind of the "anti-Lion Heart". This song is not very retro sounding nor does it share any of the same backing instruments, and it has a very tough vibe unlike the sweet, romantic sound of the former. I don't think it's a coincidence that this song and the previous were released with only one day in between, because they are, I think, supposed to represent and showcase two vastly different sides of the group. "You Think" is obviously the dark, sexy and bad-ass one, and both the song and video make the most of trying to present this.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser ImagesThe backing track is quite simple, with a steady drum beat being the main factor, and although there are few synths in there to give the song a more modern vibe there's not much else to it. I found the song a bit underwhelming to be honest, and it was mostly because of the sparseness of it. The verses are perfectly fine as they're supposed be more toned down, and the bridge shows promise but the chorus is very lacking. I see where they're going but it needed a lot more power than what it presented to actually be the song it wanted to be. Instead it comes of as mediocre at best, and not all as great as it could have been.

Also the line distribution is way off here, and although the vocalists (TTS and Sunny, basically) sound good although they at times sound like their in the middle of a sing-off with all those high notes and belting. Hyoyeon and Sooyoung also get rap parts and I don't like it a bit. SNSD should never, under any circumstances rap. Ever. In conclusion I was quite disappointed with it because I, believe it or not, also wanted a cool and sexy track from this group. "You Think" however, just isn't it.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser Images"Party" is the third track on the album, despite being the first one to be released back in July. As you may or may not remember I was quite underwhelmed by this song when it came out (and by quite I mean very), but I have to admit that it has grown on me since then. I think it's a catchy song and a perfect summer anthem, but I do still believe what I felt back then; that it's honestly pretty bland. Other have pointed out that it sounds similar to Katy Perry's popular "California Girls", and I do see why with the funky bass line and easy going guitars.

The song has that relaxed, breezy vibe that together with lyrics about parties and drinking makes a great beach jam, but for being a SNSD title track it's honestly still not up to par. Parts of it are even straight-up quite cringe-worthy too, such as the "Hey, turn it up!" or "It's a party!" lines as well as Tiffany's intro. Ultimately I like it, yes, but in a distant, generic way.

Following the three title tracks is "One Afternoon", which is a slower, more stripped-down track with folk and americana references. This song is, in my opinion, a breath of fresh air. It's incredibly sweet and delicate and rings of naivety and innocence, as the girls sing about a past love that they still think about once in a while. I absolutely love the instrumental for this one and I love the way all the highlighted instruments, such as the acoustic guitars, piano and violins add to the bittersweet vibe of the song. The members' vocals are also gorgeous, as they sing in a more light and pure tone and also include lots of falsetto and head voice singing. Seohyun especially sounds flawless, as she sings in a voice that's normally spared for her musical performances. The fall-out of the track is a beautiful, romantic piece of music that I'm happy they included on the album.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser ImagesThe genre of music switches once again with "Show Girls", a Korean remake of a Japanese song of their greatest hits album, and it is a song that sounds like it was taken straight from a Broadway musical. I love the show-tune vibe and the instrumental, which mixes both classical instruments such as brass and piano with a more modern sound. I really enjoy Girls' Generation in this type of musical style, and they do pull of this retro, throwback sound quite well. However, this song has one major flaw that can't be overlooked.

"Show Girls" opens beautifully, and the verses are majestic. I can literally see the stage before my eyes where the girls are performing in their show girl outfits, as the spotlight fades in and out over them. Even the build-up works great, as the tempo starts to rise and the vocals get more intense, but then the chorus happens. I've kind of gotten used to it now, but the transition is jarring and I don't know exactly why that is but the chorus seems really misplaced. It's a shame because I like the rest of the song a lot.

"Fire Alarm" is a song that surprised me when I first heard it, mainly because it sounds exactly like a typical SHINee B-side. The resemblance in the chorus especially is so uncanny it's not even funny. Of course that means that it's a good song, but I'm honestly imagining the SHINee members' voices in my head as I hear it. The song itself is more on the funky side, with some electric guitars and synthesizers to give it that certain flare. I personally think the song is one the album's better ones, as I truly enjoy the chorus and the members' stable vocal performances, but it lacks dynamics. There isn't enough punch in the parts that needs it and thus the overall impression is that the song feels a bit monotone.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser Images
The seventh track on "Lion Heart" is "Talk Talk", and this is where I fall asleep. I don't mean to be too harsh, but this song simply fails to stand out in any way. I guess you could describe it as a mid-tempo track with a laid-back approach, but in my opinion it's almost too relaxed. The melody isn't too bad but this song, too, isn't very dynamic and it becomes almost boring to listen to. Neither the instrumental nor the members' vocals really go anywhere, and at some times they even sound sleepy singing the lyrics. "Talk Talk" is the epitome of a filler track, and all I'm doing listening to is waiting for the next song to start.

"Green Light" is the following track, and it has me torn in to because I both really like it and don't like it at all. Confusing, I know. The sound is very classic SNSD B-side, which means it's a catchy, but slightly generic pop song with equally outstanding vocals. I'm really into the verses and the chorus, and I think the melody and chord progression is great, but there are a few things that bother me about it. First of all are the "I'm coming!" lines awfully off-putting, and I also could have done without the rapping. SNSD shouldn't rap, end of story. I also think the song sounds somewhat childish at parts, which isn't really news when it comes to this group, but it still irks me. However if I were to look at it as a whole I think the good parts about "Green Light" weigh up the bad ones.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser ImagesI guess it's time to nap again, because "Paradise" is just that uninteresting. It hurts my heart to say, but this song is very forgettable and easily one of the album's weaker tracks. The main fault here lies with the melody, I would say, because the instrumental alone is wonderful. It has that funky, dreamy vibe, but is completely buried under the bland melody and average vocal performances. Neither the verses nor chorus manage to hook me, despite having a catchy tagline in "P-p-p-paradise".

The following song barely manages to wake me up from my slumber, as "Check" has one of the grooviest bass-lines on the album but also one the most monotone melodies. The song has quite a laid-back, suave and sensual vibe to it, which is highlighted by the sultry vocals, but the chorus is extremely underwhelming. For being one of the more sexy and smooth song on the album I feel like they could have done even more with the vocals and instrumental, well, with the entire production really. Seohyun sounds amazing though, but that's sadly not enough to make the track more memorable.

"Sign" is the next track, and this one is all the more interesting. There are a mixture of genres of musical styles sampled and mashed-up on this track, but for some reason it works better than expected. It's hard to break down the track and place it into one category, because the verses, bridge and chorus all sound vastly different. They're all forms of pop-music but make use of different instrumentals and vocal effects.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser ImagesI actually like that it's so strange, because unlike many of the other songs on the album it actually makes it dynamic and keeps you on your toes listening to it. That kind of surprise element actually proves to be a valuable player. While the lyrics are nothing special I more than love the production on the chorus, as it has that sort of diffused and faded sound mixed with the clear vocals of the members. Contrasts are too, as it seems, good in keeping the listener interested.

Finally we've arrived at the last stop, and it comes to us in the form of "Bump It", which is a great track to end the album on. Instantly it grabs your attention, as the first few lines are sung beautiful with only a piano backing up, but then the beat kicks in as well as the marching-band like drums that keep drives the song forward. The vocals on this song, to start with, are great, and I was especially impressed by Sunny's performances. Like with "You Think" she's showing a new vocal tone, a sharper and stronger one that sounds great considering her voice is naturally very light and feminine. Taeyeon also sounds wonderful, and I actually don't mind the talk-rapping too much either. All in all I think it's a solid track and a nice way to round up the album.

SNSD ‘Lion Heart’ Individual Teaser Images
Now what do I make of "Lion Heart", Girls' Generation's fifth studio album? I have to say that I wasn't blown away by it, but I wasn't completely let down either. It sounded pretty much exactly how I imagined it wound sound, considering this group's past Korean albums. Most of the songs range from average to good, and they try out different styles and sounds without getting too risky. I guess some would call it safe, which is partially true because they aren't progressing much musically but instead are sticking to what they already know. I personally don't mind it too much as long as they keep on releasing awesome music in Japan, which by the way is crazy how the quality of their music actually varies this depending on the country. Anyhow I like the overall flow of the album a lot and the more even line distribution, but this isn't exactly a album that will go down as one their best. And I don't think it has the intention to either.

Highlights: "Lion Heart", "One Afternoon", "Sign", "Bump It"
Least Favorite: "Talk Talk", "Paradise"
Total Score: 3,5/5

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