Forget 2002 and Op.4; primetime for Park Jung-hyun (Lena Park) is right now. Still fresh off a wildly successful stint on competition show I Am a Singer in 2011, Ms. Park is more visible today than she’s ever been over her illustrious 14-year career; her discography is being rediscovered; listeners have been reacquainted with one of the nation’s premier vocalists. In short, Lena Park is closer to the public than ever.
Incidentally, the trajectory of Park’s music had been going the opposite direction before I Am a Singer. Let’s do a quick recap: after the career-defining success and critical acclaim of fourth studio release Op. 4, the artist chose to take fuller creative control of her albums. On & On (2005) saw several self-composed and –written tracks, Come To Where I Am (2007) listed Park as a co-producer with almost all tracks self-composed, and 10 Ways To Say I Love You (2009) finally listed her as sole executive producer. But in this process, much of the public appeal that big-name producers such as Kim Hyung-suk and Jung Suk-won had a knack for was lost, and Park’s music developed at the cost of popularity.
Park’s eighth studio album, Parallax, bucks this trend. She lets the reins go a tad, and only crafts a couple tracks herself this time around. That doesn’t mean that she’s handing over artistic direction to someone else, only that she’s being more efficient – because if anything, Parallax is more uniquely Park than any past release.
Lena Park has been strong with all kinds of genres (and still is, as we will see), but her fortissimo remains operatic, large-scale ballads: few can recreate the vocal theatrics of Park, and her voice is itself well-suited to the dramatic projections and twists of the genre. Parallax sees a welcome return to this style in its opening and closing tracks plus its lead single.
The former, 그렇게 하면 돼 (That Will Do It), offers a satisfyingly rich orchestra performance to augment its refreshingly irregular structure. Hwang Sung-je eschews having a chorus in favor of a traditional literary structure, opting for three minutes of verse and ponderous buildup before one explosive and lengthy climax. It would be easy to get lost in a track like this (for both its structure and intensity), but Park knows better; she stays in control even as the strings scale heights. Vintage.
Song For Me, meanwhile, is a Jung Suk-won track, although you wouldn’t immediately think that. This one is significantly less intense and more rhythmic than, say, 꿈에 (In Dreams) (2002). It does bulk up at about three minutes in, though, and once the chorus backing and liberal cymbals come in, it’s clear where this song is going. The ending is uplifting and cathartic, and the drawn-out final moments are reminiscent of the composer’s most recent massive ballad – IU’s 비밀 (Secret) (2009).
Between those two headliners lies a remarkably diverse palette. Some tracks are expected. Second track 실감 (Realization) continues the tradition of Park’s “madness tracks”, as they are called in Korea. It’s not quite as insane as Miss Havisham’s Waltz (2005) or Smile (2007), but a combination of bewilderingly dramatic intro, spliced melodies, and distorted interlude surely qualifies as much as Man In A Dream (1999) does. 도시전설 (Urban Legend), the other Jung Suk-won track here, is tamer: its lyrics compare an ended love to an urban legend, and they combine with the breezy modern-rock soundset to give Park a great backdrop to play in.
Lead single 미안해 (I’m Sorry), a remake of the 2009 Camila hit Mientes, expands the original’s scope out with Don Spike’s string arrangements. (The Camila version was intense to begin with, so a lot of the energy in this track comes from recycling that song’s mannerisms – such as the lull-and-explosion at the beginning of the final chorus.) The vocalist gives her finest performance here, riding the song’s irregular rhythm while finding enough room to get her trademark melisma and flair in. Coupled with the smart, emotive lyrics, I’m Sorry becomes a magnificent ballad.
On the other hand, some tracks are more out-of-the-blue. Happy-go-lucky Raindrops, produced by Mongoose member Mon9, has Park toning her power down a few notches (and her pitches up a few) to fit the airy synthpop accompaniment. (As an aside, apparently she specifically asked for a song in the mold of Mon9’s solo album and not of a Mongoose album. Although, Raindrops wouldn’t sound out of place in Cosmic Dancer…)
Even more unexpected is a collaboration with eAeon, which culminates in the deliciously dark You Don’t Know Me. The atmosphere sounds like it could be lifted right out of eAeon’s recent Guilt-Free (2012), and he delivers on the sound quality – the same hypnotic pads and stuttering beats that made Bulletproof so unnerving return here with a vengeance and with more intricate mixing. While Park displays her usual adaptive skills here, I think she could actually have subdued her performance a bit more. As it is, her lines are still too alive to really mesh with the sinking atmosphere like eAeon’s does. You Don’t Know Me succeeds based on the strength of its composition.
That’s really the only place where Park’s performance can be faulted, though. The soft strokes of 바람소리 속에 그대가 (You in the Sound of Wind) show that she is now fully comfortable with low-octane ballads, and her voice brings infectious, musical-style energy into Any Other Man. (Her touching – and clever – lyrics help.) She’s terrific where she’s supposed to be and competent in new settings; we’ve come to expect no less.
Likewise, Parallax meets all (very high) expectations. It doesn’t elevate Lena Park’s music to another level, nor does it contain a masterpiece for the ages like In Dreams. But as I said above, this album is uniquely Park. It’s diverse and grandly scaled, although it doesn’t seem to try very hard to be either. It’s technically accomplished, although it has very human warmth. Most of all, it’s ambitious. Park’s refraining from writing more of Parallax’s songs has a “one step backwards, two steps forwards” feel – she’s giving up a little creative control, but she’s instead getting a broader, richer spectrum of sounds and making her music more accessible. I see Parallax as an experiment, where Park realigns her old methodology in preparation for the future. And just like that, our expectations are raised again.
Tracklist (recommended tracks listed in bold)
1. 그렇게 하면 돼 (That Will Do It)
2. 실감 (Realization)
3. 도시전설 (Urban Legend)
4. 미안해 (I’m Sorry)
6. 서두르지 마요 (Don’t Hurry)
7. 손해 (損害) (Loss)
8. Any Other Man – Featuring 2012 Tour Band Members
9. You Don’t Know Me – Featuring eAeon
10. 바람소리 속에 그대가 (You in the Sound of Wind)
11. Song For Me
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the individual and not of hellokpop as a whole.
Have a recent release that you’d like to see reviewed? Feel free to tell us in a comment below! Requested albums will be considered each week and may be selected to be reviewed in the subsequent week.