December’s glut of ballads seems to have extended into January this year. It feels like all I’m doing lately is reviewing ballads, which makes it hard to come up with anything new to say. Of course, TVXQ are no stranger to big, emotive balladry – especially when it comes to their Japanese work. But one of the things that made their last album, XV, so solid was that it kept the energy and tempo relatively high throughout. I guess we were due for something slower.
Despite being one of the duo’s calling cards, there are only a few TVXQ ballads that I truly, truly love. Many strike me as too meandering and overwrought. Unfortunately, Manazashi (Gaze) joins this unenviable list. Yes, the song lets their voices shine, but that comes at the expense of interesting production choices and a killer melody.
Manazashi opens with a symphonic flourish that instantly caught my attention. It seems to promise something intense and bombastic, but the instrumental quickly recedes to the standard, gloopy ballad template you would expect. The understated verse that follows is quite enjoyable, driven by the guys’ performance with minimal production supporting their voices. But though the lilting melody lets them play around with falsetto and vibrato, it never transforms into something truly stirring. There’s a slight blues influence as the song goes on, highlighted by the smart addition of guitar during its second half. And like any good ballad, Manazashi moves into a satisfying key change for its climax. Still, none of this is enough to catapult it into the realm of TVXQ classics. And in this ballad-heavy season, I can’t help but feel a little disinterested with the format.
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