JYJ - "IN HEAVEN"

Initially I was against the idea of reviewing "In Heaven", mainly because I thought that if I did it would just turn into a screaming, gushing, freaking out-fest. Let's just say that a lot of things happened between the release and now that writing a review is probably the best thing to do now. That said, it's also a good thing I didn't review "Their Rooms" earlier this year, because if I did you'd be left with half a review and the same opinions for the other half.


Speaking of "Their Rooms" brings me to my first point. It's both a good thing and a bad thing that they included the songs from that EP, and even I'm not so sure myself if it's more good than bad, or the other way around. It's not getting my full praise because it means that they're recycling songs and majority of the cuts on the album were from "Their Rooms". However, it's been less than a year since they put that EP out, and that's hardly enough time to write 9 brand-new songs between everything the three had to do, and this is no longer SM where everything is handed to them on a silver platter. I would rather they put previously-released, stronger, songs on the album than even more half-baked, crammed "songs".

I'll spare you guys of the full "oh my god they're back do you know what this means" speech, but really, what this album has already achieved is jaw-dropping, considering the circumstances. It just shows how people still value good music, and that no matter how SME tries to wipe the three of the face of the earth, at the end of the day it's the music that matters, as it should.

This album is not without it's flaws though, as JYJ are relatively inexperienced songwriters. Argue with me all you want, cite polls or whatever, but you cannot deny that next to the likes of Yoo Young Jin, the Brave Brothers and Teddy, JYJ are little dots on the Korean songwriters' map. Yeah sure Jaejoong and Yoochun "wrote" a few songs on "The Secret Code" and "Mirotic", but you have to remember that during those times the songs that actually got put out went through grueling A&R and re-arrangements before they were even considered for the albums. Now, as JYJ, because the three are taking the lead, they have to do everything that was once done for them.

And I think what they fail to realize is that you cannot just sing a random song in a random key with some random instruments and expect it to sound good, no matter how gorgeous a voice you have. JYJ have the basics of songwriting pretty much clear in their heads - the structures, the melodies, etc. - but what they don't have is the technical proficiency. When they were under SME everything was done for them by engineers, producers, arrangers, A&R executives - everything from choosing the songs, matching them to the band, assigning the solo parts, to post-prod. Now they have to do almost all of that, and that's no easy task. Believe me, being able to do that is not something you can just take up in school and expect to master in a few weeks - it takes years and years of actually writing songs and working with different voices to get it right, and even sometimes you slip.

Choosing songs to sing is like shopping for clothes - different people have different measurements and you can't wear something that's too tight or too loose, it has to be just right. I think they probably know they have to match the songs to their voices, but I don't think they know how to do it. My prime example: Yoochun's part in "Nine". MY GOD is that a complete disaster. If that's the only song you hear off the album, the assumption would be that Yoochun cannot sing. At all. Which we all know is not true, but my point is that every single part of the song has to be meticulously, painstakingly paid attention to, because the minute you forget something, it's downhill from there.

You cannot force a song to fit your voice, the same way you can't force yourself into a size 0 dress when you're a size 3 or something. Of course you'll probably be able to put it on, with lots of effort and squeezing, but it won't look very pleasing, would it? That's my point. It's not that it's not possible to have a song that doesn't fit your voice, it's that it makes for a bad song, and gives off the impression that you don't know what you're doing.

So basically my comment on this entire album is that this is JYJ trying to do everything, for once in their careers. It's not a bad thing, and they did okay, but not good enough. For a bunch of guys who just went from being spoon-fed by Korea's biggest money-making entertainment agency machine to being on their own, writing all their songs, it's actually pretty good, bar a few slips here and there. But just because I like a band, doesn't mean I'm blind to the fact that they make mistakes too, or I just overlook their flaws.

Due to the fact that they ARE relatively inexperienced songwriters, all the songs on "IN HEAVEN" work around set formulas. We've heard all of the stuff on this album before, and it's not in the sense of this being a continuation of identity, it's in the sense that we've honestly really heard stuff like this before. I'm pretty sure they're not plagiarized, even for flimsy kpop standards. The album can be divided into three, very VERY distinct groups - the uptempos, the mid-tempos and the ballads. And these divisions are not only applicable to the tempos, I get the impression that JYJ only have one concept of an uptempo, one concept to a midtempo, and one concept of a ballad. They're okay songs, and the focus is really on their vocals, but the album as a whole is not creative enough. "IN HEAVEN" is for people who really like JYJ to start with.

There is only one type of uptempo on this album - and it's the synth-laden, autotune-fest of an uptempo. Second-rate talent agency production, overused synths, that type.

When "Get Out" was first released, let's just say I wasn't freaking out over it as much as I would've liked to, and that was partially because of the bad quality rip I got. Listening to it now, I realize that the song's so-called "main points" are neither the melody nor the vocals. It's the arrangement and dynamics that carry the song, and so obviously with a bad quality rip you don't hear much of the dynamics and build-ups and the little details here and there. The melody and the vocal treatment on this was rather bland, to be honest - it's nothing special if those are the only things you pay attention to, however coupled with strong production and a good arrangement with just enough kick to keep you on your toes, it's actually a good song. It's one of those songs that sounds best with thousands of fangirls screaming their heads off in the background. It just works. There are some technical slips, like how they processed Jaejoong's vocals during the break down, which is just plain annoying and And come to think of it, earlier this year I was saying that JYJ may have all these pretty melodies and nice harmonies, but they hadn't yet mastered this side of songwriting - it's not just about what you think sounds good, it's about what works.


To me, "Mission" sounds a bit like the prototype for "Get Out". The production is a lot stronger, more on the cheesecake side of things (see: my analogies for Japanese and Korean production), but there are a lot of similar elements in the two songs, that sometimes it freaks me out. Repetitive choruses, really heavy synths, all these things going on in the background - see the similarities? "Mission" is either of two things, the way I see it. One, either they're trying to do everything they learned from working with Korean and Japanese songwriters, but they still manage to leave some things out, or two, this song is a parody of all the second-rate talent agency songs, a way for JYJ to go "hey, we can do it too - and sing better". Take your pick.

I cannot stand the synths on "I.D.S.", and no, you're not the only one who heard "I want you in my pants" - it's become a running gag for fans, and I can't stop giggling every time I hear it. Again, the melody is pretty, but there's something off about how they put everything together. They way the processed the vocals, how I have no idea who's singing that "ideal scenario" part, mixed with the synths I can't stand and all these stereotypical brean-downs and build ups. Everything about this song is far too generic, and it goes right through me. I start listening to it and by the end I'm like, "wait, that's it? so where's the song?"

The ballads are also very similar to each other - they all sound like they came straight out of a K-drama sound track.

Stunning. "In Heaven" is the right mix of lead single-material and show-stopping ballad, with the likes of "Love In the Ice", and it confuses me as to whether I should laugh or cry when I hear this. It's not 100% a ballad, but it's as if they took all the things that make ballads gorgeous and put them in a single. The verses are all ballad with the single piano lines and vibratos courtesy of Jaejoong and Yoochun, but the bridges have that ever so slight bit of punch and edginess, courtesy (again) of Junsu and Jaejoong's gorgeous voices. Even the voices they chose for the specific parts are the other way around - when you say ballad, it's usually Junsu or Jaejoong sometimes, and when you say edgy, it's usually Yoochun or Jaejoong sometimes too, but on the song they switched it. That's not to say that the three of them can't do the other and this is a "first time", because they have and they can, but it's not what you'd normally expect. And the middle 8, that jaw-dropping, stunning, gorgeous middle 8 with Jaejoong just soaring while Junsu tries to pull everything back down to earth - I'll go out and say it now but that is really THE most gorgeous middle 8 I've heard all year. Is 2011 the year of the middle 8's or something? Not that I'm complaining!


So "Fallen Leaves" was one of the songs on "Their Rooms", and honestly, the beginning reminds me way too much of "Don't Say Goodbye", from "Mirotic". And because they played this song a lot on "3HREE VOICES", all I can think of now when I listen to this is scenes of Jaejoong waking up. The song itself is a really quaint song. Very short lines, with ever so slightly audible breaths, for the verses, and then when Junsu comes in it's stunning. This is, in theory, Junsu's song - he really takes the lead and gives it attitude. But after a while it does become like every other boring ballad you only really listen when you're sad.

"Boys Letter" sounds a little like Junsu's song for "Scent of A Woman" AND Yoochun's song for "Miss Ripley" AAAAAAAND Jaejoong's song for "Protect The Boss", and obviously this is the one that belongs on a K-drama the most. It's really formulaic k-drama OST, with the piano line at the beginning, the strings slowly leading to a small explosion at the chorus, all the way up to Jaejoong's part at around 2:42 and that stunning chorus, complete with backup vocals, and the high note parade all the way to the end. And that abrupt slow-down that surprisingly leads to Junsu screaming his head off. I can vividly imagine how this song is gonna be cut up and placed at random parts of an episode of a romance drama. Like, really - it's more like this song was made to be spliced up. The melody's gorgeous though, and I like how they thought out of the usual box in terms of the song's structure.

They're singing in the wrong key on "NINE", and that has annoyed me to no end ever since the blasted song came out. This is what I mean when I say they don't know how to produce songs. Junsu and Jaejoong are singing in an okay key, even if Jaejoong sounds more like a girl and he's probably struggling every time he tries to sing it, but Yoochun? What the hell Chun? Just because it works for the other two, doesn't mean you just have to force Yoochun into a song he clearly cannot sing. He has a nice voice, and that has been proven countless times before, but my god his part at the beginning is excruciatingly painful. How did that even get past mixing? Their production staff must've been drugged all the way, because I cannot understand how that's supposed to sound any good. The song in itself is gorgeous, with a sweeping melody that literally soars, gorgeous harmonies that help a lot, and a simple instrumental, but it's just not for Yoochun, and that pretty much ruins the entire experience. Please, JYJ, I beg you, have someone with experience do your A&R for you while you're still learning, please? I appreciate how you want to be as hands-on as possible, but at this point I'd rather you put out songs that work for you.

I don't know where to put "Untitled Song part 1", but to me it's just a jumble of Yoochun rapping stuff about SME, and Jaejoong and Junsu adding random adlibs here and there, set behind a loop and some piano lines here and there. Nothing much.

The mid-tempos!

"You're" SCREAMS SM TOWN for me. If this is not SM Town, I don't know what is. Come on, how can you not imagine Shindong and Eunhyuk rapping and joking around during Chun's part? And the chorus is so cotton candy sweet that SNSD would have no problem hogging the cameras while "singing" it. I should've figured they'd do something like this though, because after all, Junsu had been in SM for a decade (he entered in 1999, left in 2009) before they left, and Jaejoong and Yoochun were pretty close - the SME style is pretty much all they know. It's a pretty song, very catchy, slightly Christmas-y with the way the strings were put in, strong vocals, strong production, but I can't shake off the fact that it sounds so SM Town. I had this on loop for like a week though!

I liked the idea of "Pierrot" initially, but once "Their Rooms" came out, I quickly realized that after you listen to it once there's nothing much to the song, and the verses go from stunning to okay. The chorus becomes boring and lacks some kick, and the entire song just becomes a bore. What you initially hear is all it really is, and most of the time that bores people to death. I mean the melody, minus the chorus, is pretty, and the vocals strong, but that's not enough to draw you in for more listens. However, I'll just say that KBS banning the song is another addition to the crazy interpretations those people come up with. I though they were crazy when they banned Rain's "Love Song" because he ran through a stoplight, but now they're just plain stupid for making something up, just to ban it.

3.9/5, the melodies are there, but the ideas and technicalities are not.

7 comments:

  1. I agree with your review so much. You echoed every freaking word on my head, on the thoughts of this album.

    I love In Heaven, mostly because of its gorgeous middle 8, but the rest is mediocre for me. The album is decent, but it is none too great like what JYJ's fans blabbered all this time. Nice try for a first album fully done by themselves, but I think JYJ needs to start searching for new established composers to hand them at least 3 songs for their next album. They're not that ready yet for a 'musician' caliber, but they're just.... nearly almost there.

    Anyway, nice review, Nikki. It's really objective and doesn't scream fangirlism at all, trust me. Hahaha.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had to go through so much drama to post this comment >.< It's Ree btw! (playwithfiah)

    I actually agree with your sacrilegious less than 4 now. I listened to Tone right before this and now this seems kind of lacklustre. But at the same time, this album has a really big significance, the fact they did EVERYTHING themselves is really admirable. of course they aren't anything like YYJ, and I think at the moment they're occupied with making music with actual melodies instead of big hits like YYJ/Teddy try to do. Nonetheless, you can tell they're a bit inexperienced.

    I loved Pierrot! I'm listening to it now, and I can't get over it. That pre-chorus is so gorgeous ;_; I loved it when Their Rooms was released, and I love it now. I think this, and Get Out are my favourites. And In Heaven too, although i was a bit underwhelmed by the latter.

    BUT OH MY GOSH! THANK YOU! NINE! I ALMOST CRIED WHEN YOOCHUN SANG- SO HORRENDOUS! It absolutely kills me to see these new KPop fans going on about how 'yoochun can't sing', and it kills me how Yoochun is having difficulty proving them wrong. He's regressing, and I really wish he'd stop the smoking because he has such a beautiful voice, and urgh- Yoochun just stop!

    But I loved your review, it was so objective. :) And I agree with pretty much everything else you said.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow... You pretty much put a finger on that elusive thought of mine. This album is fine, nothing very great... A lot of their songs missed the mark by a bit. For me In Heaven was... underwhelming, but then again so was Love In The Ice when I first heard it so maybe a few more replays will endear it to me. So to sum it up, imho, this album is strictly for the fans. There's no great music here, except perhaps In Heaven for some.

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  4. I agree with some of what you wrote regarding the 6 older songs from 'Their Rooms'. However, I was really impressed with the 4 new songs, which are clearly an improvement (especially Boy's Letter and In Heaven).

    Your view as a 'critic' could be quite different from that of a listener. It's not that your analysis is wrong. It's just that a listener is less likely to over-analyse with clinical detachment, and therefore appreciate the song better. E.g. the way you wrote about Boy's Letter makes me think you might have missed the wood for the trees. Anyone who hears it cannot deny that it is simply awesome - vocals, lyrics, everything.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkjQyBg5ng8

    No matter how informed your opinion/analysis seems to be, it's still one person's opinion. I hope that readers of this blog will give JYJ a chance, listen to their music and judge for themselves. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Nicole,

    thanks for review, i actually looking for the writer of the songs in the album, but i found your review. i'm pretty much agree with you, 1st time i listened to In Heaven, i got dizzy, 2nd n 3rd i'm starting to enjoy their music.
    but they are trying their best...
    .. and still i can't tell the difference between Jeje n Yochun' voice, only Junsu's voice differ n unique

    Cheers,Ricca

    ReplyDelete
  6. i agreed with basically everything, especially YC's beginning part in nine, mygawd, what were they thinking??? and that it's great that JYJ are trying to do everything themselves but frankly they're inexperienced and it shows. but the only way is up so i'm eagerly waiting on their improvements =]
    my only beef with this review was half the review on the untitled song. it is my favorite out of all of their songs and the reason is bc of the lyrics. i see you don't take lyrics into account and the composition is simple, yes, nothing much, but it did sting when you said that bc it's a treasure of a song for me, where they literally poured out as much as they could release to the public about their current, ugly situation. i get so emotional and deeply sad every time i listen to it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is exactly what I have been thinking ever since I heard the album. I love JYJ's voices but that won't make me enjoy a song. The problem is to me the majority of it seemed very bland and formulaic, filler tracks really, which is an injustice to their voices. I want to like them but I despise bland music and thus have none of their music on my iPod. I applaud them for attempting to produce the whole thing themselves but they should of brought in professional help to streamline and give the album an edge.

    ReplyDelete

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