SHINee Comeback in Full Force with 7th Album “Don’t Call Me” — In Depth Review
SHINee’s Back! SHINee’s Back Back Back Back…
SHINee’s fans, called “SHINee World” (Shawol for short), have been waiting for this grand moment for a couple of years now. Towards the end of the year of the group’s 10 year anniversary in 2018, the leader Onew first enlisted into the Korean military, along with members Key and Minho following shortly after. After settling for glimpses of the enlisted members and the youngest member Taemin carrying the SHINee brand on his own for a while, all the members have returned, and SHINee officially released their title track “Don’t Call Me” along with the 7th full album of the same name on February 22nd, 2021.
In case there is anyone with the displeasure of not knowing SHINee, they are a Korean boy group from SM Entertainment that debuted on May 25th, 2008. They debuted with the smooth R&B inspired track “Replay”, about a young boy confessing their feelings to an older girl. SHINee have always introduced themselves as a ‘contemporary r&b band’ since debut, and while that has remained the core of their music over the years, the group are most well known for their ability to gracefully tackle any new concept and set the new trend while doing so. SHINee have given their signature touch to every genre you could ever think of, including but not limited to, New Jack Swing with 1 of 1, Dubstep with Everybody, Disco-Funk with Married to the Music, Deep House with View, Mid-Tempo Ballad with Tell Me What To Do, and whatever Sherlock is (which also happens to be an intertwined combination of two different songs on the album in one song….who does that?). Along with being the most well rounded group with the best vocals and dancers, SHINee never fails to deliver a stunning performance, which has gained them tremendous honor and notoriety that hasn’t wavered for 13 years from fans, the general public, and fellow kpop acts.
With the high expectations put on SHINee to always innovate and deliver quality music, their new release “Don’t Call Me” surely lives up to that promise. The title track, “Don’t Call Me” that opens the album, is completely new territory for the group. It’s hard to specifically name the genre of this particular song, but the hip-hop and dance elements along with the vocal melodies are very reflective of the new wave sound SM Entertainment have been pushing for their ‘4th generation’ boy groups, like NCT and SuperM (even though it was originally for legendary female soloist BoA). The song is full of ruggedness and anger not only through the aggressive bass and talk-raps, but also through the lyrics that warn their ex-lover to not go anywhere near them anymore as their love is now gone. The repeated phrase of “don’t call me” throughout the song reiterates that message every second, but does work well sonically as it adds to the aggression. While this style of music is not my favorite and the genre is a bit jarring at first even for SHINee, the bridge until the end of the song is magnificent. Entering during the bridge is a new lead piano line that sounds very mysterious and tragic, that only further brings out the sense of tragedy from the vocal line and notably strengthens the impact of the last chorus. I really wish they played with that piano more throughout the song. Another highlight for me is Minho’s performance of his solo part in the second verse, because damn has anyone checked up on him? He seems genuinely very angry, I got to give him props.
The next track “Heart Attack” introduces the prominent brightness of a lot of the other songs on this album, such as “I Really Want You”, “Kiss Kiss”, and “Attention”. It’s a complete 180 from the title track, both lyrics wise and sonically. “Heart Attack” is full of bright synths that pays homage to the recent 80s trend but doesn’t aim to recreate it; It’s bouncy, colorful, and is irresistibly danceable. “I Really Want You” is the poppiest song on the album, almost leaning into bubblegum, which makes it really refreshing to listen to. Listening to it drops me right into a sunny summer day out with friends, maybe while walking on a boardwalk under a bright blue sky. It starts off with establishing a guitar riff and claps, lined with almost sensual low talk-singing, but further builds with hints of brass in the verse. The chorus is incredibly fun and brings so much joy once all the playful bass, guitar riff, and brass all join together along with all the members’ voices. Second to last on the tracklist is “Attention”, a classic SHINee-esque song in my opinion. The sound of the warped electronic synths can be found on almost any SHINee album, but particularly reminds me of something that could be on their “Odd” album. Not my favorite off the album as I find it doesn’t bring much of anything new to the table, discography wise and the instrumental/structure of the song itself doesn’t change much throughout, but an average SHINee track is still a very decent song.
Now, onto my absolute favorite song off the album, which is “Kiss Kiss”. I absolutely adore bright funky songs. I see “Heart Attack” and “Kiss Kiss” as adjacent to each other, in the sense that they are both undeniably fresh and funky songs, but “Heart Attack” is more fun and punchy while “Kiss Kiss” is more flirty and smooth. When listening to “Kiss Kiss”, I picture in my head some ‘flirty cool guy’ from an 80s musical movie with sunglasses approaching a pretty girl at a summer party while singing this song (complete with the cheesy movie angles and all). The song is not super complex, but the seamless blend of a funky slap-bass, guitar riff, light background synths, an earworm of a chorus, and SHINee harmonies, is an unbeatable work of art. One of the undeniable highlights of this song is the most gorgeous strawn out “Oooh Aaah-Ah” harmony in the post-chorus. The actual kiss sound sprinkled in is also a slightly cheesy touch that I love.
Now whoever put “Body Rhythm” after “Kiss Kiss” in the tracklist was out for blood. Once again, SHINee have miraculously given a new genre their ‘SHINee touch’. “Body Rhythm” is a reggae inspired pop song, reminiscent of Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side”. While the main beat itself is somewhat basic, SHINee uses the minimalism of the beat to its advantage. The intro starts with the main reggae inspired chill beat, ramps up the instrumental in the pre-chorus, and goes back to just the main beat for a breathtaking anti-drop as the first part of the chorus. As Key and Onew each sing “Won’t you follow my body rhythm, Come and follow my body rhythm” on each chorus, it entrances you before the rest of the members join in with a full bodied instrumental. The second verse where Minho and Key play with the beat is also really fun and is something to break up the slight repetitiveness of the rest of the song. Everything from the catchy beat, the chorus being arguably the catchiest melody of the album, and SHINee’s voices, makes this song hard to take off replay. Also, as expected, your body naturally follows the rhythm of the song when listening, so I guess their spell worked.
“Marry You” is a special mid-tempo song that was pre-released by SHINee through a performance before the album’s official release. It pulls a certain heartstring for fans who have seen SHINee grow, as this song is a confirmed third part of a storyline involving the songs “Replay” and “Lovesick”. Their debut track “Replay” is about confessing to a girl, their fourth album featured track “Lovesick” is about your feelings while dating the girl, and “Marry You” is about proposing to the girl. In fact in this song, they directly reference the other songs in the second verse, “You’re still so pretty…[Korean title of “Replay” translates to “Noona You’re So Pretty”] I need a doctor, I’m still lovesick like I’m terminally ill”. Their vocals are carried by light synth beats throughout the song, but the chorus is really something else. SHINee have always specialized in beautiful harmonies, but right when they sing “Girl I wanna marry you” at the start of the chorus, there is a particular high voice that soars and is carried beautifully by the others. I have been obsessed with that particular part ever since I first heard it and could listen to it on repeat for the rest of my life.
“CØDE” is the track on the album that is most similar to the title track, as it has a much darker sound than the tracks mentioned before. While the rest of the album is no stranger to synths, this track plays with various synths to create an overall smooth track yet explodes at the chorus and post-chorus. The way the song is structured with the varying degrees of synth keeps the listener extremely engaged. It starts out with scattered cold and mysterious synths then builds with higher synths as it gets slightly more expressive, then in the verse it HITS you with that famous type of 80s synth bass in the best way possible. The pre-chorus removes that bass to be practically empty in comparison to highlight the falsetto singing, before the chorus jumps in with a combination of some previous synths and new synths, along with SHINee’s blaring voices. The post-chorus is the final blow and shows off an addictive melody from the collection of synths. It’s a journey the first round and continues to appeal every listen.
Unfortunately, the album does come to an end, but it closes with the only ballad on the album, called “Kind”. Despite being the only ballad among the other upbeat dance-pop songs, it doesn’t sound out of place. While the song is carried by the piano instrumental the whole way through, it’s mid-tempo and borrows electronic elements like the other songs. Most notably, I love the use of vocoder (robot-like voice effect) that’s used sparsely; I feel it emphasizes the emotion of the rest of the song. The lyrics are definitely the heart of the album, as the song is SHINee telling someone that while they were feeling completely lost, the person they’re referring to was the one who gave them strength and thank them for always being so kind. SHINees’ beautiful tones of their voices shine beautifully here and you can clearly hear the comforting affirmation of love. This is very clearly a love letter to their fans, thanking them for staying by their side after all of these years. The lyrics line up to what member Taemin said in a Rolling Stone interview recently, saying “To add on, our group name Shinee doesn’t mean we are shiny, but rather that we are “ones who are receiving light.” In the end of the video, we get together and a light shines on us”. “Kind” as the closer, in my eyes, is a signifier that under all the glitter, the heart of SHINee and their relationship with their fans is what has kept them going for so long.
Overall, this album was much worth the wait. It showcases and summarizes what SHINee is best at; From powerful concepts, to fun and funky dance songs, heartwarming lyrics, and stunning vocals. However, the only gripe I really have is how the lead single “Don’t Call Me” is such an outlier to the rest of the album it’s supposed to represent, as the rest of the album is pretty cohesive in being bright while the title track is the complete opposite. A SHINee newcomer and a dedicated fan from the beginning can enjoy this album all the same. After all these years, it is a great defeat that SHINee are still shining as bright as ever in an industry that is so quick paced. Their diamond legacy has already been imprinted in stone and the release of “Don’t Call Me” is a great reason to celebrate their legacy so far and what further there is to come.
“Don’t Call Me” — 6.5/10
“Heart Attack” — 9/10
“Marry You” — 8/10
“CØDE” — 8/10
“I Really Want You” — 8.5/10
“Kiss Kiss” — 10/10
“Body Rhythm” — 10/10
“Attention” — 7/10
“Kind” — 10/10