Dec 15, 2015

Vixx Releases Second Full Album "Chained Up"

It's been almost precisely two years since Vixx's very first full length album "Voodoo" was released, and now the six members have come back with their second one. To me Vixx's discography hasn't been as consistent as I would have liked it to be, as it seems every other title track is a hit and the next one isn't, as well as them drastically switching from dark, fantasy-inspired concepts to bright, light-hearted ones. Of course that's become kind of their thing now so no one's really reacting that strongly, but it does result in some sort of conflict when it comes to their musical style.

Although I wasn't crazy about "Voodoo" I did like it, but for the most part I have enjoyed their mini albums much more. As for "Chained Up" I went in with low expectations as a result of my general disappointment over the title track, and I has my expectations both confirmed and proven wrong all in the same album.

The album opens with the more or less obligatory intro, which in this case is called the alluring "Mistress". It's just over a minute long and serves as an introduction to what the album's overbearing theme might be. It does sound quite spooky, if I'm going to be honest, and knowing Vixx's image I'm not really surprised either. It's only an instrumental and it doesn't really have any value of its own, but if you're going to listen to the full album you might as well include it in the beginning to set the mood.

Directly after comes "Chained Up", the title track which I've written some about previously, and if you've read that post you'll know I'm not a huge fan of the song. It's an uptempo track with an electronic sound, with some added finger snaps in the verses to make it even sexier, but it's mostly built on different electronic drum beats and a synth-heavy chorus. I also mentioned that I thought this song sounded more like old-school Vixx, say around 2013, and that's mostly because of the instrumental but also the vocal harmonies in certain places and overall production of the track.

I don't mind this kind of song, I honestly don't, but it does kind of feel like a step back for them, especially after "Error" last year which was musically a huge step forward. Maybe I was just expecting better because of how much I enjoyed their comeback last year, but I have to say that I am a bit underwhelmed, and not even the sexually intriguing lyrics can change that. It's one of those songs I'd sing along to if it came on, but I probably wouldn't put it on myself.

The follow-up song is a song that I like better, and it's called "Maze". It follows almost the same kind of musical style as the former, but it possesses the kind of punch and power I kind of missed in "Chained Up". The synths are going strong right from the beginning along with a pounding bass line, and the heavy instrumental carries on all the way into the chorus, which also is a pretty great one. If not "Chained Up" this one could have possibly been the title track as it has both that kind of typical Vixx sound as well as a powerful melody and great vocals. All of the members sound on point as well in this song about being trapped in love in the same way as if you're running in an endless maze, and I definitely think it's one of the album's most catchy songs.

Next up is another personal favorite of mine: "Stop It Girl". or at least it was until I read the lyrics. Musically the song is quite beautiful, being an mid-tempo ballad with a guitar base and additions of brass instruments for a more dynamic effect, and although this isn't a genre you'd normally would associate with Vixx they pull it off quite well.

From only hearing the lovely melody and the members' soft and heartfelt vocals you'd think it was a song of love and dedication, but it turns out to be about obsession and possession. They are seemingly head over heels in love with this girl and can't stand the sight of her talking to or even smiling at other men, so much so it seems they're actually going crazy about it. They never act on their feelings, fortunately, but the thoughts are still there and it sucks that such a beautiful song like this would contain such off-putting lyrics. I still like it, but not as much as I would have otherwise.

vixx leo chained up
"Hot Enough" is up next, and here we have it; the ultimate sex jam of the album, and God are the lyrics hot. Did someone turn on a heater in here or what? No but seriously, this song is pretty darn smooth and it has a very chill R&B influenced sound that the members spice up with sexy falsetto vocals and rap parts. I love the laid-back vibe of the track along with its confidence and sensuality, and for such a minimalistic song in terms of the instrumental it's surprisingly dynamic. The chorus is really well done and Ravi's part is also cleverly put together, but Leo's high note at the end definitely takes the grand prize. Although the song is a great B-side it's not really my personal style so whether or not I'd listen to it on a regular basis is uncertain, but I know I'd love it if it came on.

Following is another great track, "Spider", and it's probably my favorite new song on the album. Like with "Chained Up" and "Maze" it's an up-tempo dance track with an unmistakable Vixx trademark sound, and I definitely think this could have been an amazing title track as well. What I like about it, apart from the earworm hook and seriously fantastic chorus, is how this feels both like the old Vixx and a new kind of Vixx.

It possesses elements that we've seen before; the electro pop sound with focus and synths and drum samples, and even the vocal layering and structure seems familiar, but this one isn't regressive at all. There's also a very funky element to it that almost reminds me of SHINee, and an instrumental with a great chord progression (especially in the chorus) and drive, and although it's hard to put my finger on it the overall impression of the song is that it feels like the best of many worlds. Lyrically it follows the theme of being "slaves of love" as they sing about being caught like a spider in a web, and there's a surprising amount of references of the art of spider love-making, but they manage to make it sound very hot nonetheless.

"That You" is another guitar-driven track, but this one is unlike "Stop It Girl" quite a lot more upbeat and has more power and drive and also has additions of violins in the chorus. This one isn't a ballad as much as it a pop song, I would say. and it's very bright and very cute with a nice chord progression. The lyrics aren't as exciting as some of the other ones on the album, but their lovey-dovey nature is actually a nice change from the themes of the other songs so far. I personally think the song is quite good, but it does feel a bit out of place on the album and apart from the "neoran yeoja" hook there aren't many more memorable parts. Leo's and Ken's harmonies sounds great and Ravi's rapping is also pleasant, but to me "That You" just doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.

With the next song we are past the half-way point, and it is from here things start taking a turn for the worse. "Heaven" is what comes next, and to this day I still haven't been able to listen to the whole song from start to finish. It's also a bright, up-tempo pop track with an electronic instrumental, and that sounds like it could be a good combination knowing Vixx's liking for these kind of songs ("G.R.8.U" for example), but this one is just plain bad. Everything about it is generic and the intro alone is enough to make me wanna skip it, with the spelling out of the words "Angel" and "Heaven" in the most cringeworthy way possible. I'm just going to pretend this song doesn't exist for the sake of my love for this group.

"Now We" is the next song and it is the only real ballad on the album, which means exactly what you think; dramatic lyrics, dramatic vocals and an orchestral instrumental. I actually like some of Vixx's ballads ("Youth Hurts" for example is brilliant) but this is not one of them.The melody doesn't grab onto me the way these songs need to for me to like them, and the result is that the ballad sounds generic and dreary which of course is unfortunate. The problem with songs like this one is that almost all of them sound the same, so I find it hard to build any real emotional connections to them, unless they have something special that sets them apart. "Now We" has great vocal work from the group and Ken especially sounds fantastic, but no matter how much I want to I'm just not feeling it.

After "Now We" there are two familiar songs on the tracklist: "Eternity" and "Error". I always forget that "Eternity" happened because I didn't like the song at all and have since kind of pushed it out of my memory, but here it appears once again on Vixx's new full album. I didn't like it back then and I'm still not liking it now, and that's all I have to say on the topic.

"Error" is a whole different story but I'm not going much into that either because, well, I have written reviews both on the MV for it and the mini album back when it came out so I won't do it again. But I will say this; the song still rocks my world. The very last song on the album is "Can't Say", and this song kind of leaves me confused.

The instrumental is quite a handful, and some parts remind of me different groups (Infinite for example), and although I can kind of see where they were going with having a soft rock track for a final song the outcome isn't the best. There are electric guitars, piano, violins and many more elements that in theory sounds like a great plan for an epic closing track, but neither of those elements I feel are utilized properly and the result is therefore quite underwhelming. On top of that it sounds nothing like a Vixx song, and I don't like it at all.

When summarizing this album the impression that stays with me is that "Chained Up" as a whole is a bit all over the place. There are some great songs, some average songs and some pretty bad ones, and the consistency is, as you can tell, pretty non-existent. There's also a huge variety of genres and musical styles, and it's hard to make out any kind of cohesiveness. The first part of the album is quite nice, I will have to say that, but the second half is not that great and throws the balance of the entire release off. The uneven quality definitely makes the album loose some points, which is shameful because I genuinely like a couple of tracks and all the members have shown great improvement as well. "Chained Up" might not be their best release as of yet and it's especially disappointing because "Error" was so good both as a single and mini album, but I guess even the greatest fail sometimes.

Highlights: "Maze", "Spider", "Stop It Girl"
Least Favorite: "Heaven", "Can't Say",

Total Score: 3,2/5

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