[Review] Devil – Max Changmin (TVXQ)

Today is a Max Changmin day, as I review a third song from the soloist, who made his official solo comeback today. The song in question for this review, along with the title of his second mini-album that also dropped today, is Devil. Serving as pre-releases for this release is Fever and Maniac, which I had just posted reviews for in a double review format. The last time we saw Max Changmin as a solo artist was through his 2020 release Chocolate and more recently his Japanese single Devil in December 2021 (which I am hoping to review soon).

Devil continues the string of unique and individualistic releases from Max Changmin with an epic and bone-chilling track. I have a personal playlist of epic and thrilling sounding tracks that I have heard over time (i.e. movie sound tracks, songs used to back intense moments from TV shows and other general tracks that I have come across with epic vibes that puts me on the edge of my seat), and Devil would fit right into that playlist. From the very first second, Devil itself stands out from the crowd with its acapella ‘hoo hoo‘ background and Changmin’s lower tone. Some striking guitar and percussion work comes into play soon after, but they are kept very minimalistic for the time being. All of this continues up until we get to the chorus, which is separated by a brief moment of silence and a slightly roughed up autotuned ‘So let it rain‘ line, before we are launched into an epic chorus that is made of the exact same instrumentations already mentioned (including the acapella that provides us the ‘Rain on me‘ lines in the chorus). and features an intense drop. It is definitely a bold and worthwhile endpoint. Like the other songs reviewed today, Changmin pairs his voice with the instrumentation and throws in some tension as he raises his vocals. The melodies aren’t as striking, which is a tad disappointing. But that can be overlooked by the execution and epicness of the chorus His vocals are once again shown off in the brief second verse and bright, before we are brought back to the chorus each time. His high notes were so satisfying and just added so much more oomph to the song. He finishes in an amazing manner, with an ad-lib that brought nice closure to an otherwise thrilling song. Overall, Devil leaves me impressed and in awe – which is definitely continuing thread of the whole comeback. Can’t wait to listen to the album.

Per usual, I am not entirely sure what is going on in this video. From the ending (spoiler alert), it appears that Changmin is the devil. So I guess, the video is some sort of origin story. Again, not entirely sure. But what I am sure is that I really enjoyed the dark vibes from the video. It is a dark intensity that I look for when KPOP does ‘dark concepts’, to which only a few acts have managed to pull off before. And the forest scenes in this video nailed it. I also liked how minimalistic the video was as well (like the song), but there was still so much going on at the same time. The flashes in time with the beat for the chorus were also a great idea.

The performance of this release is quite aesthetic. From what I can observe from the music video, it fits the epic vibe and flair of the song quite well. The second chorus looks amazing with Changmin in the middle and the dancers surrounding him. Also the spin in the final chorus looks stunning. I do hope we get to see a live performance of Devil with all these elements in it!

Song – 9.5/10
Music Video – 9/10
Performance – 9/10
Overall Rating – 9.3/10

[Double Review] Fever + Maniac – Max Changmin (TVXQ)

Max Changmin starts the year off with a bunch of new releases. All of these new releases (plus a few more songs) form part of his second mini-album, Devil, which officially dropped today. Per usual, I will be focusing on the releases with music videos. As the post type ‘double review’ insinuates, I will be reviewing two releases in this post which in my mind act as the pre-releases for this new album. The first is titled Fever, which ‘stage’ video dropped on 8 January 2022. The second is for Maniac, which ‘promotional’ video dropped on 10 January 2022.

Fever kicks off promotions for the new album with an impressive and captivating track. Fever opens up with some jazzy influences and teases us with some rock as well. His voice flirts with us for a moment, just briefly before Fever builds to its full potential. Within less than half a minute, Fever has changed its tune. The song now brings out heavier and powerful drumming, while Changmin ups his vocals to a higher and powerful tone to compliment the change in momentum. While percussion becomes a prominent part of Fever from then on, the piano and rock influences do not falter and are consistently present throughout the rest of the song. As Fever progresses, the instrumental gets more intense (especially each time we re-enter the chorus) and Changmin pushes his vocals in both direction, impressively showing off both his high and low registers throughout the song. However, that is not all. For the best parts of Fever, it has to be everything from the instrumental dance break (that forms the bridge onwards). The concentrated rock and the interjection of the piano melody for the dance break, followed by Changmin literally blowing me away with his high notes on top of the powerful drumming that feels more like slams at this point. I am in awe every time I listen to Fever.

Maniac left me speechless when I listened to the song the first time around. Second and third time around, I was enjoying myself and the exciting tempo and relentless energy that was coming from the Maniac. And it is still hard to sit down to review this song without nodding or tapping along to the beat. Maniac takes on a completely different vibe to Fever, going down a more Queen influenced and theatrical path with its style and sound. I just loved the colour and vibrancy that was coming from Maniac, a definite positive aspect of the song. It is also quite unique and is very fresh, as a result. Another positive aspect of the song has to be the showcase of Changmin’s vocals, which are undoubtedly superb in this song. His voice just captivates you in this track as well, and pulls you in. The character behind his vocals compliment the theatrical side of the song, and the vibrancy his vocals bring to the song just amps Maniac to new heights. I really like the different types of melodies used throughout Maniac, including the ascending and descending melodies in the choruses and bridge. Overall, both Fever and Maniac are bold numbers in their own right, with each coming off as different and appealing at the same time.

Fever‘s video is more straightforward, as it is a stage video. Essentially, the performance is the main focus of the video and it appears that Changmin is singing the track live (due to the presence of the microphone on his face – but I hesitate in calling this a live performance for now). The stage looked cool, though I think the lighting at times could have been better. I also wished his outfit was a bit more unique and not cliché. Maniac on the other hand has a more fleshed out music video, with influences from Alfred Hitchcock being a prominent feature of the video. For those who are not familiar, the music video carried influences from Psycho and The Shining, as well as Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. But to fit the brighter and upbeat tone, the video strayed away from the horror elements (though it looks like we did get a touch of that still) but more so on colour and vibrancy. I also liked how the video was separated into acts, further bringing the theatrical influences from the song to the video as well.

Maniac does not have a performance, so I will skip over that. However, Fever does. And it is a bold and powerful routine, just like the song. What makes it bold would be more so the ambition of pulling off a live performance with this song. And when I mean live, I mean live vocals and the same energy as we got in the video! I would love to see Changmin perform Fever live. I doubt there would be any issue on his part, and I will be very impressed with any attempt of it.

Fever
Song – 10/10
Music Video – 8.5/10
Performance – 9/10
Overall Rating – 9.4/10

Maniac
Song – 10/10
Music Video – 10/10
Overall Rating – 10/10

[Special] Top 10 Personal Favourites Songs from 1st Half of 2020

2020 has proven to be an eventful year so, without a doubt. But since we are at the halfway mark already, let’s have a little reflection post on the last 6 months. In no particular order, here are 10 of my personal favourite KPOP releases since the start of 2020. I have also added some of my favourite sidetracks that I have encountered so far in the year as part of my top 10. This is also irrespective of my reviews and Weekly KPOP charts posts.

[Album Review] Chocolate (1st Mini Album) – Max Changmin (TVXQ)

It is time for another album review. Sorry that this is a day late again. I had it written up and ready to go. But I was too tired after a long week at work to actually copy into the editor and insert the videos for the album review. So I opted to Netflix instead, like a professional procrastinator. But without any further delays, here is yesterday/today’s album review post. Today’s focus is on Max Changmin’s official solo debut mini-album, Chocolate, which is also the title of the main title track on the album. This release comes after Changmin had debuted as part of TVXQ 16 years ago.

Chocolate Album Cover

1. Chocolate (Title Track)Click here to read the full review for Chocolate. (10/10)

2. High Heels – One thing that stands out in High Heels is the subtle level of grooviness in this jazzy number. There is also a sleek and classy vibe thanks to the funky guitar and deep bass in the background, all contributing to a strong foundation. Adding to the appeal of the song is Changmin’s vocals, which I find to be quite light. I liked the harmonies between Changmin’s vocals and the background vocals. The sound of the high heels walking at the start and end of the song was also adds an element of curiosity and got me thinking why Changmin would be singing a song by a pair of high heels. Well, the high heels referred to in the song aren’t the actual shoes. Rather, it is referred to as a barrier and that their crush is unreachable. (8/10)

3. Lie (ft. Chungha)Lie steers the song towards the modern sound again. We get a minimalist instrumental in this song, with hollow drums being the main instrumentation we get during the verses. The song adds a dramatic flair and a beat to the chorus, driving the song forward. Lie also features Chungha, who we all know from hit songs and recent release (Stay Tonight). I really like how the song sets up for Chungha’s featuring for the chorus, inserting a squeaky synth into the background and easing us towards a high-pitched yet aesthetic ‘I’m So Lonely’, courtesy of Chungha herself. I like it feels like it is part of the instrumentation, yet at the same time, we know it is her featuring part. She isn’t limited to just 3 words on repeat, however, as she has a vocal sequence in the bridge, which was quite nice. Changmin, himself, sounds amazing in this song. He goes between a standard pitch that somehow just melt into your ears, high pitch and harmonises with the backing vocals that just adds further smoothness to his voice. The pair doesn’t share any sections explicitly, but they manage to develop a really strong chemistry that I just want more of. (10/10)

4. Piano – I don’t know if Piano is meant to come off as a fun number. But that is the feeling that I get from this amazing song. First of all, I am in love with Changmin’s vocals in this song. He goes lows for the verses and I find this very alluring, given the higher note of the piano in the background. His adopts a more powerful vocal delivery for the chorus and this felt very bold due to the contrast with his low tone. Second of all, how aesthetic is this instrumental. It predominately features someone hitting the same key on a piano throughout the instrumental. There is also this low bass beat and drumbeats which adds some character to the song. I also love the dramatic endings to the chorus, which add a zap to the song that really grabs your attention. To sum up, I quote Changmin in the song, ‘I Like It, Don’t Stop’. (10/10)

5. Me, Myself & I – Setting up the tone and direction of this R&B is an unanswered song and the line ‘I’m so freaking over you’. Changmin barely enters a different vocal range in the song unlike his other tracks, staying low and bringing out a raspy sound in this voice. It almost feels like he is whispering to himself. This R&B track features acoustic guitars and drum beat that pushes the song along. While it does sound like all is lost in his opening line (which is the opening line to all choruses in the song), there is a glimmer of hope and that is why you could feel a little warmth to the way the song came together. Unfortunately, I did find the song monotone to a degree and hence didn’t enjoy as much as the other songs on the album. (7/10)

6. No TomorrowNo Tomorrow is the song that closes up the album. And it definitely follows the feel at how the songs do not sound alike in anyway. It is upbeat thanks to the band instrumentation and acoustic guitars. The song also has a very bright profile, which I find every interesting. That might be due to the really uplifting lyrics that Changmin had penned. In No Tomorrow, his vocals are a lot bolder and not held back. Actually, a better way to describe is that Changmin lets loose in this song, without going with a crazy song. It feels refined this way and ends the album on a very bold yet happy note. (9/10)

Overall Album Rating – 9/10

Chocolate Teaser Image

[Review] Chocolate – Max Changmin (TVXQ)

Max, otherwise known as Changmin, debuted as part of TVXQ back in 2003. And while he has been an experienced KPOP artist, he has yet to officially make his solo debut. That is, until today through the song, Chocolate. He may be a familiar face to some fans who have been listening to KPOP for some time, however he may be quite unfamiliar to any new fans to the industry. Come to the think of it, it has been a while since we have heard from Changmin. To be precise, the last we saw Changmin (in Korea) was through the TVXQ’s Truth back in 2018 (He and fellow member Yunho have been slightly more busy in Japan – their last comeback being in 2019).

The one issue I find when it comes to artists who have been around for some time is that their solo release ends up being something tacky in an effort to fit in when it. Other times, they release something too typical. Chocolate is neither of these things. Right off the bat, Changmin grabs your attention with the flawless vocals and the pretty random line ‘I ain’t scared of electricity’. The flawless vocals continue throughout the song. It sounds like he is shouting during the pre-chorus but it feels very controlled and grounded. The verses sounded like he was whispering in comparison and I enjoyed the sing-speak for the actual chorus. I also like the rap-speak that he brings, adding texture to the song. The instrumental is full of other different textures thanks to the use of various synths. It is definitely a funky mix, overall and one that undoubtedly keeps you captivated. I also find it interesting that the producers kept the chorus very short and sweet. The repetition of the ‘Chocolate‘ does not feel overwhelming or overly repetitive. Like the food item, this song is definitely one to take in moderately. Or else, you would just be replaying the song all the time.

The music video shows a failed heist. We open up with the ending. Changmin is holding on to the edge of a building and subsequently dropping down to the bottom. The thrill of this probably compliments the same feeling we got from the start of the song. The story then goes to Changmin being interrogated (which I believe is the start of the story). He then escapes, plans the heist, fails are getting the fancy marble-like structure (his hands hover near it, but he never touches it) and then proceeds to go on the run. At the end of the video, he is seen on the roof, which re-links the story back to the start of the video. I think the video wraps up nicely. I am just not sure about the other sections. Unless, I am missing key details or misinterpreting it entirely (which seems to be the case most of the time). Let me know what you think about the storyline in the comment section below.

The choreography is quite good. It may not be as ground-breaking (from what I could see in the music video) in comparison to what TVXQ is commonly known for. But it still does the job. There seems to be a flirtatious facial expression that Changmin puts on during the chorus, which I am sure fans will enjoy.

Song – 10/10
Music Video – 7.5/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 8.9/10

[Review] In A Different Life – Max Changmin (TVXQ)

The second half of the legendary duo, TVXQ, has finally returned. Max Changmin has returned with his solo single, In A Different Life. The track is also part of the SM Station weekly release and this week’s release also features Yunho’s Drop.

Unlike Yunho’s electronic-heavy single, Changmin went for a more simplified and natural sound. In A Different Life is a pop-ballad that features guitars and a beautiful piano melody. But that doesn’t steal the spotlight. It is his vocals that do and it shines brightly. The way he delivers the lines just make everything sound like you are floating in the clouds. It is not harsh nor rough, but it is soft and mellow. But that being said, the song does feel a tad empty. First of all, it isn’t exactly that memorable. While I did highlight his vocals, the song doesn’t come off as catchy or has any moments that make me go “Wow”. Second of all, I don’t think the song peaked at all. Instead, it just felt very neutral and linear, in terms of its sound. But regardless, I still appreciate the song for its simplicity and softer sound. Comparing the two songs (this one and Drop), both seem to go nicely together. One is pretty much straightforward while the other is unexpecting and complex.

Watching the accompanying music video, it puts the song into a more reflective light. Changmin seems to do just that. And while that is a good thing, I don’t think anyone is really into the whole ‘reflection time’ segments of life. That or it can be just me. It just doesn’t seem captivating and expectedly, the video shares the same fate. Max seems to take in Mother Nature through the many different shots we see him in, which all looked nice. Just the video doesn’t seem to engage me as I would hoping for.

Song – 8/10
Music Video – 7/10
Overall Rating – 8/10 

[DOUBLE REVIEW] Champagne + Rise As One – TVXQ

Another double review for you all. This time, TVXQ is back with a brand new special album. This is their final album for the next two years. That is right, they are enlisting into the army, with Yunho going in first and Changmin enlisting at the end of the year. However, of course, they did not want to leave their fans empty-handed and presented with a special album. This is like just a  present and received very little promotions. This time around however, they did not stick to being a duo (but the majority of the songs on the album are duo work), but selected solo songs for their title track. Yunho’s solo was Champagne and Changmin’s solo was Rise As One. Usually, I don’t review TVXQ songs, but I felt like I needed to this time around.

Like I said, I don’t review TVXQ songs that much. But this time around, I was drawn to their solo songs. Yunho’s Champagne is a really nice song that has a subtle party feel, with what I believe is some sort of rnb roots (?). He chose the song wanting to leave on a happy note and that is basically what he has done with this song. For me, this sounds like a pop song that would had come out like early 00’s. Back in the day. Hahaha…. Not exactly fond of his rapping in this song and also the bridge of the song sounded too mismatched with the rest of the song. The song is quite catchy (especially the “I only want…” parts. Honestly I thought this was such a great song. It is completely different from their past songs. They honestly should do more of these.

Changmin also has a great song as well. So it is not all praises for Yunho. I totally dig this song and would choose this song over Yunho’s song any day (Sorry Yunho). But why? The song has the EDM background instrumental to it, which I totally dig (I really enjoy songs with the “drop” nowadays). And boy, the instrumental sounds so great with the vocal’s of someone who is known for ballads and other strong songs. There is nothing wrong with the song. I enjoyed everything with this song from start to finish. The polished guitar instrumental towards the end fitted in well with the song. The song flowed so fluidly, I felt like I was floating away. Really did. This song has that effect of letting you float away into dream land.

Both music video’s were pretty cool. Yunho’s was still in a box, which is quite disappointing, but I really enjoyed it. There was some sort of story line with it, how he looks similar to the dude on TV. But then it abruptly finishes there and proceeds to go partying for the rest of the music video. The start with the many Yunho’s playing multiple roles in the one scene was quite cool. It also was meant to be for a comedic relief. There were also guest stars in the music video with a few people I don’t know. But I did notice Hyoyeon from SNSD. Changmin’s music video was equally as nice. It was shot outside (interesting…). It features no Changmin though, which was a disappointment, but the acting from the kids that did feature in the music video were pretty good. Though I don’t think that is a plot at all in the video, I really enjoyed how the scenes came together to tell (somewhat) a story. The cinematography was amazing.

There really isn’t much to say for a dance. From the looks of it, I don’t see much a dance from Changmin’s song. There is a dance for Yunho’s song but we really don’t see much of it in the music video.

Now, since the guys are gone for the next two years, what is going to happen to the band when they actually do comeback after their hiatus? How big is it going to be? It is going to be massive!!! But yeah, they will be missed.

Champagne – 8/10

Rise As One – 10/10