SUPER JUNIOR – ‘The Renaissance’ review: of present-day relevance and past remembrance

Diversity and nostalgia are the orders of the day in the nine-member group’s 15th anniversary release

It’s probably safe to say that there isn’t a musical genre that SUPER JUNIOR haven’t covered yet in their 15-year-long career. From the 2000s pop/R&B-influenced ‘U’ (2006) to the Latin-inspired ‘Mamacita’ (2014) and even the swing jazz-esque ‘Black Suit’ (2017), the group have never shied away from exploring different sounds or concepts.

‘The Renaissance’, SuJu’s long-awaited 10th studio album, is a release that’s as diverse as the group’s nine individual members. Speaking at their online press conference, members Heechul and Eunhyuk shared that the 10-song album comprises a mix of genres that allows listeners to “hear the unique voices of the members”, with “messages that reflect the times”.

The disco-pop title track ‘House Party’ fits that description perfectly – it’s a quirky ode to the social distancing measures that have characterised much of the past year (“According to the newly created rule / Great manners to protect each other / This is my house party”). The song’s fun and upbeat tempo makes way for a surprising genre shift in the middle; deep trap beats that seemingly represent the adverse effects of people’s self-centeredness (“The small deviation I enjoyed today / The butterfly effect has gone beyond control”).

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Much like how ‘House Party’ straddles more nostalgic influences with modern musical trends, the rest of the album also falls neatly under two contrasting categories, forming an interesting paradox (which coincidentally, is also the title of one of the tracks): songs that point out SuJu’s continued evolution with sleek, modern beats and songs that evoke nostalgia with a more lighthearted, sentimental sound.

Those that come under the former include album intro ‘SUPER’, a rousing electro tune with a shout-along chorus that’s reminiscent of fellow SM Entertainment act NCT U’s 2018 single ‘BOSS’, and ‘Paradox’, a dark synth pop track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a EXO album.. There’s also the whistle-laden ‘Mystery’, which sounds like SUPER JUNIOR’s take on NCT U’s ‘Make A Wish (Birthday)’, but at least it’s elevated by satisfying high notes from Ryeowook and Eunhyuk.

While the trendier songs show the group’s versatility and experience, there’s also a sense of lost personality in those tracks. They’re undoubtedly good songs, but they could’ve been done by any other SM act and no one would bat an eyelash. It’s in the sentimental ballads and upbeat nostalgic tunes where SUPER JUNIOR bring an air of familiarity and comfort.

The highlight of these more throwback tunes is pre-release track ‘The Melody’ (‘우리에게’, which means “for us” if directly translated from Korean), which the boyband release last year to coincide with their 15th anniversary in November. Co-written by members Leeteuk and Yesung, this folksy tune takes both the group and ELFs (the group’s fandom) on a journey down memory lane, with lyrics that reflect the challenges they’d faced and overcome in the past (“Even the moments we wanted to give up everything / We got over because we were one”) and an added reassurance of the future (“Remember more tomorrows than yesterdays / We will be together”).

No renaissance would be complete without “resurrecting the classics”, which leader Leeteuk briefly mentioned at the album’s press con. For this new LP, the group have resurrected ‘Raining Spell For Love’, which first appeared on 2014’s ‘Mamacita’. Compared to the original’s faster tempo, the remake is a softer, more delicate take that better brings out the lyrics’ sincerity and showcases the group’s vocal abilities.

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Probably the most interesting twist on ‘The Renaissance’ comes right at the end: the upbeat Christmas song ‘Tell Me Baby’, which was first released during the 2020 holiday season alongside a cutesy animated film. It’s a very youthful sounding song – certainly brings to mind the vibe of 2010’s ‘No Other’ – that isn’t necessarily out of place on the album, but taking into consideration their more recent catalogue, it’s certainly an awkward side step.

This does not mean that SUPER JUNIOR need to release songs that “sound their age” (whatever that means) and stick to more mature sounds. In fact, the range of musical colours and diversity on ‘The Renaissance’ showcase why the group have had their notable longevity and could even prompt “a revival of SUPER JUNIOR” as Leeteuk hopes. Although each member has continued to shine in activities outside of the group, this easy-on-the-ears album reminds listeners how much better they are as SUPER JUNIOR.

Details

chung ha querencia debut album
  • Release date: March 16
  • Record label: SM Entertainment
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