Album Review: Younha – Supersonic
Was there any 2009 release that was a more massive letdown then Younha‘s Peace Love & Icecream? It was painful to see the promising young artist, whose astonishing sophomore album Someday (2008) had dazzled every critic in the land (I’m being quite literal), release a flawed and incomplete album that was riddled with plagiarism accusations. The fact that the titular acoustic track was actually good made the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the album that much more lamentable. Growing Season and One Shot, while better, did little to undo the damage.
Fourth album Supersonic comes out of the aftermath. The lawsuit is over, and Younha is with a new agency. The most obvious result of this change is a renewed focus on rock. Whereas Someday experimented a bit with that, its base still remained accessible piano-rock and pop ballad; that approach goes out the window here, as Younha references modern, punk, and nu metal to forge the album’s harder tracks.
Titular opener Supersonic hits the ground running with velocity and palpable groove in its riffs. The track still plays close to a rock ballad, but its instrumental heaviness is a reassuring sign of Younha and producer Lee Kwan‘s (who also oversaw the 2009 albums) commitment to change. Rock Like Stars has attitude to match its steady tempo, although it struggles to be engaging. Complexly layered and spliced No Limit completes the album’s troika of heavy tracks with a clear reference to Seo Taiji‘s nu metal phase in Live Wire (2004).
These tracks are successful on the whole, not least because of Younha’s deftness in navigating them. This artist’s vocal prowess isn’t exactly news, but it really shines when we examine her versatility in different settings. She puts some croon into her voice and steels her notes to follow Supersonic‘s explosive but melodic chorus one moment, then replaces that with a subtle, playful drawl and drag to go along with the uptempo No Limit the next. She’s exceedingly comfortable in each environ, and that turns what could have been an instrumental showcase into solid songs.
Younha’s vocals are on further display in Supersonic’s ballads, most prominently in 소나기 (Rain Shower) and Set Me Free. These two, while still ballads, are affected by the album’s focus on rock; they borrow from the modern rock and post-Britpop of bands such as Nell and Coldplay in crafting spectacular atmosphere and packed sounds. (Kim Byung-suk‘s work in these tracks should be enough to quell concerns about his melody-writing ability.) But far from being drowned out, Younha thrives in this dense setting.
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With authority, she takes over and drives Rain Shower to a thrilling climax. It’s the album’s best performance by far; it has been a while since we’ve heard Younha let it rip like this, and the result is as emotional as it is cathartic. She lets the instrumentation do some more of the work in six-and-a-half-minute epic Set Me Free, especially when it comes to creating scale and spectacle with dramatic snares and rushing string/guitar riffs, but she handles the lesser-but-crucial vocal parts with the delicacy of a veteran band vocalist.
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There’s some other interesting experimentation here. People, lead single Run, and Driver all incorporate synthrock to various degrees, and they sound pretty good. Various elements like Younha’s Rihanna-channeling in Driver and Cho Gyu-chan‘s imaginative lyrics in 크림소스 파스타 (Cream Sauce Pasta) give further novelty to the album. Tiger JK, John Park, and Jay Park are all welcome voices, and while they don’t contribute all that greatly, they represent new avenues of collaboration for the future.
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One thing to note, however: as divergent as this album is from Younha’s prior career, she didn’t write or compose many of its songs. That’s not to say that her creative participation was low, since it appears that she worked extensively with the producers to craft the album. But curiously enough, the lyrics of Run, No Limit, and Driver – three songs that seem fairly explicitly to deal with Younha’s struggle with her former agency – are all listed as being written by others, which made me do a double take. On the other hand, Younha did co-write and co-compose Set Me Free, arguably the album’s most significant track (both musically and lyrically).
Supersonic isn’t a masterpiece, and it doesn’t quite reach Someday‘s level of consistent excellence. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a work of this much ambition from an artist Younha’s age. Her music has seasoned through adversity, and I believe her personal prowess is greater now than ever. Supersonic is, instead, a triumphant return and new beginning.
Tracklist (recommended tracks listed in bold)
3. Rock Like Stars – Featuring Tiger JK
5. No Limit
6. 소나기 (Rain Shower)
7. 우린 달라졌을까 (Would We Have Been Different) – Featuring John Park
8. Set Me Free
9. 크림소스 파스타 (Cream Sauce Pasta)
10. 기다려줘 (Please Wait)
11. Driver – Featuring Jay Park
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the individual and not of hellokpop as a whole.
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