Feb 25, 2016

Kim Jaejoong Delivers Another Quality Album In "NO.X"

Many tears were shed when everyone's favorite Kim Jaejoong was sent off to his mandatory army duty almost a year ago, because for all we know that could've meant no more music from him until at least 2017. However we should've known better, and that of course Jaejoong had something in store for his fans even when serving his military service. His first and latest full album dropped in 2013, and I am forever bummed I never got the chance to do a proper review on it since I started this blog in early 2014, but it was one amazing album and so him. You could feel his soul and passion on every single song, and it was a very emotional yet satisfying experience. Of course this means that the expectations for this album were sky high, and fortunately "NO.X" doesn't disappoint.

One can speculate as to why the album title is "NO.X", but his previous album was called "WWW" (standing for "Who, When, Why") so perhaps he just has a thing for letter combinations. Anyhow I was very excited going into this because I loved "WWW" so much, and basically everything he released prior to that as well ("Mine" remains untouchable), but I was also worried that I would be let down or that his music would've changed too much compared to three years ago. "WWW" was a very intense album with lots of emotionally packed tracks, almost to the point of being overwhelming at some points, but it was that raw, brutal approach with his rockier sound that I fell so hard for.

This album opens up with "Good Morning Night", which is a track that I could see fight in quite well with the songs on "WWW". It's an uptempo rock track with focus on guitars and drums, and it's also quite a bright song that I think is a good opener for the album as it really gets you going with its infectious spirit. The lyrics share the same bright theme, as they're about living in the present and enjoying each moment to the fullest. It's a very carefree and uplifting song, but the somewhat heavier instrumental keeps the track balanced as it doesn't feel too positive or happy.

The following song must be one of my absolute favorites on this album; "Drawer". It's essentially a rock ballad, which when done right is one of my favorite type of musical genres and really the only ballads I tend to truly like. Like with the former track he wrote the lyrics for this one, and you can tell that the words he sing come from the heart, because they seem to have been written before he went to the army. All fans know that one of Jaejoong's big fears is being forgotten, and that fear is well conveyed in this song, which sounds both sentimental, bittersweet and sad at the same time.

However it's still a pretty calm and relaxing song and Jaejoong gets to show off his lower register more, which along with the emotional lyrics makes for a really genuine and moving performance. There is a great use of acoustic guitars which adds to the song's mellow nature, keeping it perfectly balanced between powerful and soft, and the harmonization added by a female vocalist to Jaejoong's lower singing sounds gorgeous. In fact, the entire song is beautiful and it has a wonderful melody and chorus that immediately draws you in.

Up next is the main promotional single for this album; "Love You More". It did receive a video, although it's mostly made out of behind-the-scenes material and not so much actual MV stuff, but it was great nonetheless to see Jaejoong and his beautiful face again. I can easily tell why this song in particular was chosen as the title, as it's extremely catchy and has a hook that gets stuck in your head already after the first listen, and that's really what you want in a promotional track. The chorus is highly infectious and ear-wormy, and it definitely has a likability factor that few other songs on this album has. Musically the song is more of a pop-rock track, as it again has plenty of guitars and hard-hitting drums, but it's also very radio friendly and quite mainstream. I personally think it's one of the album's better tracks, but I do think that it is a bit repetitive and that the catchy hook of "I want to love you more, love you more" is sung perhaps a bit too many times.

"Love You To Death" is the following track, and it is one that's grown on me tremendously since I first heard it. I guess you could say that it's the album's first mid-tempo track, and the instrumental is more pop-inspired as well with focus on piano rather than guitars to create the main sound of the song. It definitely has more of a western sound that reminds me of music made by British bands, and I think it's great that Jaejoong takes influence from other kinds of music around the world.

 Like with "Drawer" he sings in a lower range here as well, and although he sounds beautiful I wish there was more dynamics in the vocal arrangement as the song (and the chorus especially) comes across as quite monotone and one-dimensional to me. I kept waiting for something to happen and for some tension or build-up to be created but it never did as much as I would've liked, which is why I can't fully love this otherwise great tune.

Up next is "Good Luck", which in many ways reminds me of "Luvholic" on his previous album. Musically the two share a lot of similarities, such as the powerful and almost aggressive old-school rock instrumental with loud guitars and bass, but more importantly the cocky attitude and unique vocal work. "Good Luck" is basically a diss track in rock form, and
it's cool knowing that Jaejoong both composed and wrote the lyrics for the song, which by the way are awesome and full off attitude and confidence. Vocally he also proves his versatility because the vocals are quite chopped, bratty and non-melodic, and he even kind of rap-sings at some parts (I do think this song would've been better with a rap feature though). Personally I'm not a huge fan of this song in particular, but I appreciate that he tries new things and I'm always in favor of him calling out all the haters and hypocrites.

The following track is loosely translated to "Blame" or "Resentments", both of which fit the lyrics of the song that's about pleading a loved one to come back and not shut the door on them, and feeling sorry for what fools they've been. This Jaejoong-composed song comes as quite a breeze after the intense "Good Luck", as it's another mid-tempo track with a lighter instrumental that's has more of a bluesy feel. There are definitely more synthesizer and keyboards used here which gives the song an overall calmer vibe, matching the gloomy and regretful lyrics. Like with the former track this one isn't really my cup of tea, as I find it kind of boring and even Jaejoong's vocals aren't impressive enough to convert me. It does have a nice guitar solo though, but that's sadly not enough for me to want to not skip this track.

The tempo and intensity rises again with "Welcome To My Wild World", which shares the same kind of positive vibe as the album's first track "Good Morning Night". It's quite upbeat, carefree and energetic, and I can see this one being a crowd favorite at concerts as you can just jump along and have fun with it. When looking at from a perspective of it being a fun song that's easy to casually enjoy and sing along to it's great, but when looking at it from a perspective of wanting to listen to it frequently it's not as amazing. The only real time I can see myself enjoying it is if I were to be at his concert, but it's unfortunately not a song I would listen to much otherwise. It feels slightly too happy-go-lucky which translates to immaturity, and the vocals are quite a let down as well.

"Breathing" is the following track and is, after a parade of underwhelming ones, another personal favorite of mine. It's not exactly a rock ballad, but rather a mid-tempo with many similarities to a rock ballad. The verses are quite calm with harmonious acoustic guitars, but the chorus is much stronger and has a heavier instrumental but still feels relatively relaxed compared to intenser rock tracks on the album. I love the melody of the chorus as it think it's dynamic and varied and balances both minor and major chords, creating a perfect mix. The vibe and feeling of the song is also incredibly peaceful and relaxing, enhanced by the free-spirited and calming lyrics who are full of love, passion and freedom.

The following song is also one of my favorites on the album; "All That Glitters". Musically it's very similar to "Love You To Death" considering this one too is piano-based and has a European feeling, and it sounds very modern and contemporary. I would say though that the piano is even more prominent here which makes it stand out among the other songs, and the bass that kicks in is lovely as well and is heard better here since there are no loud guitars to bury it. Actually, the instrumental alone might be my favorite out of all the tracks on the album. However as many similarities as there are to "Love You To Death", the two songs have very different impressions and vibes. While the former was more sweet and warm, this one is mysterious and dreamy. The melody is captivating and the chorus is beautiful, and Jaejoong sounds wonderful singing in a lighter voice.

Next up is this album's only "real" ballad "Meeting, Even As We Meet Again" or perhaps is it translated to "Meeting Again, Will Meet Again, But...". Either way the title is irritatingly long but no matter what the most correct translation is the song is most certainly about meetings, or more so not meeting someone for a long time. I'm thinking these sad lyrics might be related to Jaejoong going to the army, as he wrote them himself, because there's definitely a feeling of saying goodbye and missing someone. As for the musicality of the song I don't have much to say but that it sounds like an ordinary ballad, a pretty one for sure, but generic. I've heard many ballads that sound exactly like this one, so although I think it's beautiful it doesn't stand out or makes me want to go back and listen to it.

"You Know What?" is the second last song on "NO.X", and it's arguably the cutest and most lighthearted song on the album. Especially when compared to the previous dramatic ballad, this one comes off as even lighter and more upbeat even though it's quite a soft mid-tempo track. The instrumental is also very light, a bit sparse almost, with a blend of breezy acoustic and electric guitars, piano and a few added sound effects such as record-scratching. The lyrics are definitely cute as well, as he sings about his girlfriend's annoying behavior and how it drives him somewhat crazy, but in the end he still loves her and wouldn't have it any other way. I have to say that although this song is really sweet and a breath of fresh air on the album it doesn't appeal to my taste in music, so unfortunately it's another track that I might have to skip.

The very last song on the album is called "Run Away", and it's without a doubt on the best ones on "NO.X". Like with the ending track on his last album, "Paradise", he decided to end this album on a more personal and intimate note as well. The content of the two tracks are very different though, both musically and lyrically. "Run Away" has a very minimalistic instrumental that's mostly just piano, with some additions of light beats, and it creates a very naked and revealing atmosphere. The melody itself is just breathtaking and the lyrics, that are about a painful break-up, along with some of the best vocals I've heard from Jaejoong, make for an almost surreal experience. You can't help but to feel touched and moved, and although the song is very calm and unfortunately very short it's a powerful way to end the album.

Like I said in the beginning of this review I had crazy high expectations for this album, and although it didn't disappoint those expectations weren't entirely met either. I suppose when it comes down to it it's all about personal preference, as I can objectively say that this album is genuinely well-made, with a variety of songs in all kinds of fields, yet still with a impressive cohesiveness. There are more mid-tempo tracks than before as well as more songs with influences from other music genres, and the overall sound of it is definitely more polished and refined.

However on a personal level there is no way I think this is better than "WWW", as compared to that album there were only a few songs here that I genuinely loved and more tracks that I would skip. As the album is more mature and polished some of that raw, passionate emotion that was found on "WWW" has gone missing, and I think that's unfortunate. The songs on said album were also more intense and had a darker kind of rock feel, and those few here that have attempted that style fell a bit short. You might think I dislike this album hearing these complaints, but that's definitely not true. Sure, I might not like it as much as Jaejoong's previous one, but it's still a high-quality album full of songs sung with his fantastic voice, and that can never be a bad thing.

Highlights: "Drawer", "Breathing", "All That Glitters", "Run Away"
Least Favorite: "Good Luck", "Blame", "You Know What?"

Total Score: 4/5

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