Key’s happy place for the majority of his solo work has been delving into nostalgia, with prior releases drawing inspiration from B-grade horror flicks (‘Gasoline’), ’80s synthpop (‘Bad Love’) and other retro pop culture paraphernalia. For ‘Good & Great’, he keeps the throwback feels going, with disco and funk elements littered throughout, creating a listening experience that makes it near impossible not to get up and dance along to.
Like its title suggests, the mini-album is satisfied with being both good (musically) and great (at setting the mood). These are titles that Key himself can clearly proclaim as a member of SHINee, one of K-pop’s most prolific and critically acclaimed acts. Title track ‘Good & ‘Great’, which opens the album, fittingly sets the tone by making it clear that this release is perfectly at ease for the dancefloor, but also suitable for the stadiums and arenas SHINee typically perform at.
Jaunty yet groovy, ‘Good & ‘Great’ is an invigorating single that takes an optimistic view on showing up to work even when it’s hard. “Days when you wanna let go of it all / There’s more than a few oh, do I know / I wanted this so bad / Chose this path, but don’t mean it’s easy,” he croons over a funky bass line, before reminding himself that he is “good” and “great” on the catchy chorus: “I work, get paid / Thank God all day / I love it, I’m epic.”
It’s an album that is awash in ambient pop melodies that feel like a late night out at a club, perfect for those hazy, dancing alone philosophical moments. While some K-pop acts opt for albums that bounce around genres, ‘Good & Great’ keeps things cohesive throughout its six tracks, even getting progressively funkier, and more atmospheric, as it goes.The moody English-language ‘CoolAs’ exemplifies the vibe of the whole project, with Key’s breathy, cheeky delivery talking himself up with witty, conversational call-and-response lyrics.
There’s also the effusive ‘Can’t Say Goodbye’, with gritty strings driving it forward, before the seductive, push-pull groove of ‘Intoxicating’ and the angsty whimsy of ‘Live Without You’ arrive. They’re songs about the intense highs and lows of love, which feels immensely suitable on an album drawing on the history of pop music, when pop is, of course, a genre that is exemplified by love songs. But, in a welcome change of pace, Key gets introspective on the weighty, self-written closing track, ‘Mirror Mirror’, a hazy reflection on looking back at oneself.
At this stage in his career – just weeks away from his 32nd birthday on September 23 – ‘Good & Great’ emphasises just how well Key knows himself and his audience, and is thriving as a result. Like a soundtrack to Virgo season, the mini-album puts forth vibrant, addicting dance-pop tunes that bounce along smoothly to glitchy beats and sleek basslines.
While ‘Good & Great’ doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it doesn’t have to either – sometimes it’s enough to be satisfied with the way things are. But what the album does do is live up to its title, fulfilling the promise of both “goodness” as well as “greatness”, with a sense of awareness that comes with the air of someone who has found confidence in their art and place in the world. This may not be Key’s greatest release, but hell if it isn’t a damned good one.
- Release date: September 11, 2023
- Record label: SM Entertainment