SF9 – ‘Turn Over’ review: an earnest effort marred by missteps not of their choosing

The nine-member boyband take baby steps towards refining their sound, after their epiphanous outing on ‘Kingdom’

Fresh off their appearance on TV reality competition Kingdom: Legendary War, SF9 are entering a new era in their career with a renewed confidence, as leader Youngbin shared at their recent comeback showcase, per The Korea Herald. With the experience and exposure gained through the programme, the nine-member boy group – also consisting of Inseong, Jaeyoon, Dawon, Zuho, Rowoon, Taeyang, Hwiyoung and Chani – would be more hard-pressed than ever to keep the momentum going.

The number nine is said to represent “completion, but not finality” in numerology, according to Numerology.com. “Think of it more in a cyclical sense,” the writer says. “It’s about the ending of one cycle and the potential it creates for another cycle to begin.” It’s timely, then, that SF9 have kicked off a new cycle with their ninth mini-album ‘Turn Over’, a six-track offering that starts with title track ‘Tear Drop’. According to Taeyang, the group decided to “tak[e] a turn from their signature masculine performances”, opting instead for a “genderless feel” to its choreography, elaborating: “Our focus was on breaking free of the things we had done before.”

sf9 tear drop turn over review
SF9. Credit: FNC Entertainment

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Curiously enough, this is a shift that can even be felt in the song itself. Where their 2018 single ‘Now Or Never’ oozed an alluring sensuality and their winning 2020 single ‘Good Guy’ being an impassioned appeal (”Look carefully / Don’t miss out on me / ’Cause I’m [a] good guy”), ‘Tear Drop’ seems more passive, or even slightly detached in its stance. It could possibly be interpreted as a response to a break-up: maintaining a brave face just after the fact, and before reality truly sets in (”Pretending I’m ok, pretending I’m cool / Acting like it’s fake / But you and I, we say goodbye”). This departure from their usual assertiveness may make the song come across as being “a little weak”, as Hwiyoung candidly shared in an interview with Soompi, but one can perceive this deviation to simply be part of their ongoing self-exploration.

There is always some strength to be found in weakness – so enter the one-two punch combo of producers Daniel Kim and Al “Geek Boy” Swettenham. The duo were responsible for both ‘Good Guy’ and ‘Now Or Never’, in a way helping SF9 transition into the trademark synth sounds heard in their title tracks over the last few years. So, it’s no surprise that they’ve been roped in to add their musical Midas touch here: a whimsical soundscape segueing into darker, deep house pulses, eventually coming together in a very satisfying mash-up.

Though for a song with a supposedly ‘minimalist’ sound, ‘Tear Drop’ seems to transform into a rather busy track particularly towards the end, where rapper Zuho’s baritone struggles to hold its own against the other ad lib vocal parts. His bars in fourth track ‘Off My Mind’ also comes into crisis, with its off-timing beats being very ill-matched against the ongoing melody, resulting in a messy, jarring cacophony. Ironically, he seems to know that too, if his lyric ”My head hurts from the dizziness” is anything to go by. Applying the technique in careful measure, however, contributes an interesting cadence – just like his turn in the synth-brass laden final track ‘Hey Hi Bye’.

Despite the rhythm gaffe, ‘Off My Mind’ is an upbeat, catchy number that spins a typical break-up song on its head (its Korean title ‘하자 하자 이별 좀’ can be loosely translated as ‘Let’s Just Break Up’). ”I’ll be cool with breaking up with you, okay,” Taeyang points out rather matter-of-factly, “You’re not like me, we don’t match, there are a lot of excuses”. It’s interesting that this song comes after the conciliatory-sounding ‘Love Again’ (“I apologise / I forgot because of a small misunderstanding / That we should be together”); storytelling usually helps enhance the flow of an album, so it does seem a little odd how the sequence here happens in reverse.

The album’s pièce de résistance is undoubtedly ‘Believer’ (Korean title: ‘숨’, or ‘Breath’), the very song that SF9 performed during the Kingdom finale. Its expressive lyrics (“Venturing into deep darkness and an endless labyrinth / My fearful heart feels suffocated every night”) and emotive delivery are compelling, and the group have every reason to be proud of putting it forth in the competition. The words in the song are probably what the guys themselves take to heart, particularly the lines that Jaeyoon, Dawoon and Rowoon sing: “But you’re one of them reasons / You make me wanna believe / I won’t give up, I get up again, new start.”

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Kingdom was a turning point for us,” mused youngest member Chani in the programme’s finale, adding at their comeback showcase that he’d also learnt “that SF9 have no limits”. Though there are limits to how far the work of others can propel a group; while there are tracks that shine in ‘Turn Over’, SF9 unfortunately ends up tripping over questionable choices in others. Seeing how the rap line (Youngbin, Zuho, Hwiyoung and Chani) contributed lyrics in all the mini-album’s songs, the guys can hopefully persist in further refining and redefining their musicality, and maybe even present fully self-penned or composed songs in future releases.

Fortune favours the bold, as the saying goes. For SF9, it would be up to them to boldly move forth in charting their unique musical path – and in turn, truly be the authors of their own destiny.

Details

sf9 turn over tear drop revview FNC Entertainment
  • Release date: July 5
  • Record label: FNC Entertainment
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