Note: The order reviewed isn’t the actual track order. Thanks to kingfei for pointing this out. The real order is
03. 유로파 (Europa)
04. Wait a Minute
05. 백허그 (Back Hug)
Serves me right for having to head out to a Miley Cyrus concert and not double checking first.
After so many errors and screw ups that almost made Core Contents Media seem competent, Girls’ Generation (SNSD) finally released their fourth mini-album “Mr. Mr.”. It is SNSD’s first K-Pop release since the group last assaulted ear drums and threatened to break pop music’s very structure with “I Got a Boy.” There’s no music video yet due to “data corruption”, but the audio album is now online (officially). While there’s a couple of songs in the six track mini that don’t warrant more than a passing listen, “Mr. Mr.” also contains some undeniable gems which should shoot right to the top of the group’s long and well-known discography.
“Soul” is about a good a start that one could want on a mini-album. A literal countdown to start may be a bit obvious but the production is quite good for an opening swing. Strong guitar licks swirl and the electric guitar is used to great effect to create a rocking atmosphere. The vocals are given just enough sheen and polish to blend nicely and best of all, the girls sound energetic and often are propelling the beat rather than being dragged around by it like they were in “I Got a Boy”. To its credit, SNSD makes great use of choruses and double-tracking vocals, both of which are seamlessly integrated here. A rap (a rap!) is even used to keep momentum going towards the end of “Soul” and it doesn’t sound shoehorned in at all. Between the lively beat and SNSD’s authoritative take on the vocals, “Soul” does what any opening track wants to do; make a great first impression.
After an exhilarating start, SNSD settles back in with a sound that is much more familiar for them, the slower ballad. It’s not bad, but ballads rarely threaten to offend for better or worse. Bass and claps combine with an acoustic guitar in what could have been made in SNSD’s sleep. With nine girls, SNSD can make any ballad sound rich and fulfilling and at it’s best “Back Hug” is sweet and non-threatening, the exact type of work that one could enjoy as background music but couldn’t recall under the threat of death or Sunny aegyo.
“Wait a Minute”:
“Wait a Minute” is a more modern dance pop track, continuing SNSD’s genre dabbling in the “Mr. Mr.” mini-album. There’s some hints of modern day R&B in the intro but the choruses are pure dance pop. Jaunty keys are the real star of the show as the off-kilter beat is the best thing about the track. SNSD is perfectly fine to let the beat do most of the work but when a simple key and snare combo is what keeps the song going, everything ends up sounding a bit empty. “Wait a Minute” often seems like it wants to take off but has neither the chorus, hook nor bellowing vocals to make it happen. It’s a passable effort and the audio track could easily get ingrained in the head but “catchy” and “fondly recalled” are not the same thing.
Europa is a mid-tempo pop track which makes good use of SNSD’s penchant for light pop ditties. While they rarely work as singles (with the exception being the scourge-of-the-planet “Gee”), SNSD’s airier efforts can be quite fun. If anyone’s perfected how to make a good bit of fluff, it’s Girls’ Generation. The beat is straightforward and the percussion marches forward with all the cheery determination of a homecoming parade. Chorus work is double tracked per usual and there’s the requisite high string-synths and keys. Solo efforts are clearly defined and Jessica’s introductory vocals set the exact right tone for something as delicate as this. “Europa” is the french press coffee to the herbal tea of “Bear Hug” and it’s slightly better as a result.
After a promising start which devolved into an enjoyable but unmistakably throwaway middle section, SNSD rebounds strongly with “Goodbye.” The bass line to start the song is incredibly funky and SNSD knows how to play off it before breaking out into a great warm chorus (Taeyeon’s clear delivery and lack of brassiness actually works in her favor here, where gloss is preferable to grit) which is a wonderful mixture of strong vocal work, some groovy cymbals and dat bass guitar. At just over three minutes, the interplay between the chorus and verses don’t wear out their welcome while staying engaging in a way that begs for a repeat listen. A fade out to end the song works as a soft landing for an enjoyable ride. In comparison to the somewhat forced cheer of “Wait a Minute”, “Goodbye” pulls off pop’s greatest trick; making the calculated seem easy and spontaneous.
“Mr. Mr.” is everything which “I Got a Boy” probably wishes it was. It’s got an edge, it’s got grind and it’s got a hip-pop-by-way-of-Skrillex kick which is undeniably exciting. The strong distortion from the start make it very clear that this is unlike anything which Girls’ Generation has done. The choruses don’t require dancing as much as they require head bobs so deep that they slowly transform into bows. The break seems to even ignore that this is a single by a girl group as the nearly entirely instrumental bridge could also be said to be the singular highlight of the mini-album. SNSD takes a backseat to the production, but unlike in “I Got a Boy” this seems like it was done on purpose. There are multiple swerves and breaks in the track but it all holds together under the constant grungy electronic beats and SNSD’s purposeful attacking of the instrumentals, an element of aggression that comes off as earned swagger rather than forced fronting. The claps add an element of danger and a mean streak that has long been missing from SNSD’s discography while some synth work in the verses keep things cheerful enough so as to not lose SNSD’s signature peppy strengths. A music video is forthcoming, but with the strong single, SNSD has already achieved victory. “Mr. Mr” is SNSD’s best release in years and it should be in the discussion for best Girls’ Generation song when it is all said and done.
For a mini-album, “Mr. Mr.” is fairly typical in its distribution of great songs and filler. Half the songs can be said to be very good and about half will only be remembered by die hard fans. The good handily outweighs the mediocre though and that makes “Mr. Mr.” about a good an effort as one could realistically expect from a K-Pop group as well-known and with a brand as safe as SNSD’s. “Mr. Mr” is absolutely a highlight and should go down as one of the best singles of 2014. While newer groups are positioning themselves to be The Next Big Thing, “Mr. Mr.” shows that those groups have a long way to go before assuming SNSD’s mantle.
Standout Tracks: “Mr. Mr”, “Soul”, “Mr. Mr.”, “Goodbye”, “Mr. Mr.”