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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The song never finds its own groove.
The intro vocals over minimal piano are of unclear time signature. Try it! Its almost a 4/4, but the vocals are neither untimed free form delivery, or cleverly syncopated, or jazzy deliberately late off beat, they just sound basically off beat.
Then the song transitions to a languid 2 beat measure, and a chorus with the triplets on those beats. The pronunciation on those triplets feel rushed. It seems to be a deliberate choice by the producers to have the guys sing what in other songs an evenly paced triplet or a jazz swung triplet, singing instead a triplet where the first beat is faster that the second which is faster than the third which is held briefly. The effect is to be rushing forward and then immediately holding back, rush forward hold back, rush forward hold back, and repeat for how many times does the chorus repeat? too many times.
So for someone like me, who has a husband playing lots of old jazz vinyl every night, it doesn’t match anything that I recognize. It sounds weird (to me).
Or maybe that was exactly the effect they were looking for.
Coincidentally, just now minutes later, Tom Jones “I’ll Never Fall in Love” just played on my ipod shuffle. It is exactly what you would expect an crooner’s old tyme ballad in 6/8 time with repeating triplets would sound like. He just lays into the groove, Tom Jones-style.
Or “Delilah”, more famously.
Congratulations! You found much more to say about this than I did 🙂
Well then, I shall add a bit more on my Tom Jones digression: also “What’s New Pussycat” is in 6/8 time, with the refrain famously kicking in on the 2nd beat, and the verses ending quite sharply on the 6th beat (“you and your pussycat NOSE”).
I listened to the song again this morning for the nth time. It is actually in a fast one and two and measure, and mentally my mind tries to force it into a 6/8.
But my comment still stands: it needs more swing.