Tuesday, September 09, 2014

NOW KPOPPING: Super Junior looks for "MAMACITA" (Ay Ya Ya Ya Ya!)

A part of me desperately wanted to get this "review" (term is used loosely with these hooligans) out there as soon as possible but the music nerd inside of me wanted to actually digest Mamacita - The 7th Album before spewing squeeing nonsense. So I decided to close my lips, shut my tongue, and thoroughly enjoy my boys being back before getting to you all. I hope you forgive me.

Spoiler Alert: Some of this will inevitably viewed as ELF propaganda but listen to me now when I tell you ahead of time -- I'm quite pleased with my boys in Super Junior's latest release. (Shocking, you say?) Also, this will inevitably be a very long post. I promise I tried my hardest to reign myself in. Sigh.

First, a little background for you non-ELF crazies who are still open toward the KPOP genre. Super Junior, my arguable second biggest bias in KPOP, are going on nearly 10 years strong in the industry and are bonafide trailblazers thanks to the scorching success of "Sorry Sorry" back in 2009. At one time, they were 13 members large which was unheard of in Korea at the time. Now, "large and in charge" pop groups of either gender are the relative norm. 

Currently, SuJu has returned to close to possible full strength (given the official exit of now Chinese popstar Han Geng and unofficial exit of youngest member Kibum): leader Leeteuk has returned to the lineup after completing his mandatory two-year military service back in July and Heechul, who exited temporarily following 2010's Mr. Simple - The 5th Album for his own military service, has also returned. The one glaring omission is Yesung -- the group's requisite vocal heavy lifter. While I feared the worst with his absence, I was pleasantly surprised by how the (large gaping) hole left with Yesung out was filled in, but we'll get to that in a few. Comedic Shindong is next on the docket to leave, most likely once promotions for Mamacita wrap up, followed shortly by Sungmin and odds are pointing toward (sob sob sob) my beloved Donghae and his Eunhyuk.

Before I get to the title track and its cracktastic music video accompaniment, let's talk about Mamacita, the album itself.

Top (L to R): Donghae, Kangin, Ryeowook, Eunhyuk, Leeteuk
Bottom (L to R): Sungmin, Kyuhyun, Shindong, Siwon, Heechul
As much as I love Super Junior for their hyper ridiculous personalities, whether in a live concert format or a televised variety show, I hold no allusions regarding their vocal output. There are talented musicians in Super Junior to be sure, but true ELFs should not be naive that the group itself should be more considered entertainers (and damn good ones) rather than goosebump-inducing vocalists (exception: Yesung). With Yesung out doing his duty as a Korean man, much of the vocal lines were obviously handed to the rest of the -KRY ballad sub-vocal line in the group's youngest Kyuhyun & Ryeowook but Donghae also picked up quite a few more lines while a lot of the rapping was spread out from just Eunhyuk (and occasionally Shindong) to gleefully include Heechul. The rest -- Leeteuk, Kangin, Sungmin, Siwon -- are basically there to provide alternate vocal color and to mean mug the hell out the stage (what's up, Siwon). (Although, I will say -- Kangin, Sungmin and even Eunhyuk have really audibly improved quite a bit.)

Despite the fact that Super Junior's vocal abilities are modest, the group often still insists upon a ridiculous amount of ballads on their full albums that would always really bother me. It's not that they shouldn't ever perform ballads. If it's the case of "Sorry Sorry - Answer", the feel is unique and sexy and plays to the members involved strengths. But just tacking on generic ballads to full album sets, when the majority of the vocals are given to Yesung, Ryeowook and Kyuhyun anyway, never made much sense to me. Personally, I don't go to a Super Junior party to hear them sing weepy ballads. Maybe once in awhile ("Marry U", anyone?) but now seven albums on, they should be realizing just where there strengths lie and that was part of my problem with Sexy, Free & Single - The 6th Album

Maybe it was because of Yesung's absence (I hope not), but this problem seems to have remedied itself on Mamacita. All of the cuts are of mid-tempo or quicker with the exception of the gorgeous final cut, ballad "Islands". I call out "Islands" first because it adequately features all of the members involved. While the song itself tells the story of overcoming countless trial and tribulation, most likely in a romantic relationship, the group attributes it toward their strength and connection as a band of friends. "After barely crossing the wave that is this world / I'm getting a little closer to that place that we promised / To you / Closer, closer."

Upon my initial first listen, even cuts that initially felt like they'd be ballads ("This Is Love", "Evanesce", "Raining Spell for Love") happily proved me wrong by employing more walking basslines and more of a faster feel. This overall makes the whole set fly by quicker and feel much more cohesive and this should be applauded.

"Midnight Blues" stands out in particular for its smokey, jazz club kind of feel. It's much more of a sophisticated, adult sound from a group that prides itself on its childish behavior. Love One Direction? "Too Many Beautiful Girls" sounds like a catchy cast-off from their catalog with the lines colored in by Super Junior's gleeful energy. I'm picturing this being performed live during the next Super Show in swim trunks (and nothing else). Make it happen, boys.

"Let's Dance" is a fun disco-lite romp that sounds like it wouldn't be so out of place on a Donghae & Eunhyuk full length. For this reason, I assumed it was Team One Sound like "Oppa Oppa" or "I Wanna Dance" but no! It was actually produced the euro DSIGN Group, who've provided a variety of SMTown smashes in the past ("Rum Pum Pum Pum", "I Got a Boy"). They do tend work more with the JPOP side of SM however, so maybe the connection to "Oppa Oppa" makes sense. (They also tackled "This Is Love", a lovely listen as well).

When KPOP idols come to music shows for their big comeback, they also perform one b-side from the album as well and imagine my utter euphoria when it was announced the b-side for this comeback would be "Shirt" -- a silly, pop romp ("Sugar! Sugar! Hun-eh Huneh!") written by my love Donghae. It's about time the boy got some recognition for his composition contributions! The song is ridiculous but also ridiculously catchy and features all of the guys being pseudo-sexy (some are better at it than others...just saying), fake instrument playing, and a handful (ha!) of pelvic thrusting for good measure. Bless you, Hae. You know exactly what the fans want, don't you.

This brings us to "Mamacita".

"Sorry Sorry" (part 4) it is not. So snaps and claps to SM, Yoo Young-Jin, and the team for attempting to do something different for the guys this time 'round. Perhaps this was thanks to a little help from Teddy Riley, who's been skulking around the SM Studios since Girls Generation's "The Boys". Given "Mamacita" has a "latin" swing to it, Teddy's influence is revealed in the roll of the beat and the inclusion of horns in a less big band-y way that has been Young-Jin's drug of choice lately. The trumpet flares feel less vintage and more sexy -- which is exactly what they were aiming for, I'm sure.

The choreography is fantastic in some places, totally unimaginative during others (smacking your head? really?) but given that we actually got a video that had a plot (we'll use that term loosely again), beggars can't really be choosers. The song is definitely a new spin on the group without going 180 and the chorus is super catchy. A+, in my book.

Now...to the video. If you dislike the crack plot, you must be new here. I for one am jumping up and down that Super Junior are FINALLY being their weirdo selves with this!

I'm replacing my patented, bullet-pointed thoughts (which I realize I haven't done in what feels like a million years...) with the "plot" of the story. If you feel confused by this, just imagine three or four of these being included in literally every Super Junior live show and you'll start to understand the plight of the ELF fandom.

The Full "Plot": Criminal Mastermind Leeteuk breaks out of jail, complete in hat, poncho and spanish guitar. This makes the Town Sheriff (who else but the modelesque Siwon complete with yet another ridiculous moustache) very twitchy, so he goes to get drunk at Heechul's bar. As a totally unrelated, totally random bullfighter (Eunhyuk) shows off in the street to impress women (appropriate choice of role, Hyuk), the "Director of the Bank" Sungmin waddles around with an ornate jeweled crown (um...okay) and hides it basically in plain sight in a carriage in the street FILLED WITH PEOPLE WHO SEE HIM. One such person is Leeteuk who salivates over the prize. Blacksmith Shindong is apparently a corrupt accomplice to this Thief and distracts Sungmin while Leeteuk flails in happiness and goes to take the crown for himself. He runs off and Sungmin angrily tries to go after him -- but is held back by Shindong who knocks him uncouncious with his Blacksmithing mallet (Where's the Sheriff when you need him? Off crying in a corner. Literally. Damnit, Siwon -- focus!). 

Barber Ryeowook sees Shindong's dirty deed, freaks out and screams for help from Siwon who finally comes running (seriously -- Worst. Sheriff. Ever.) With Sungmin still uncouncious, Siwon goes out seeking vengence and Gamblin'/Magician Man (okay?) Kyuhyun sneaks over and apparently steals money from Sungmin's coat pocket (A scheming no-good with no respect for his elders? Again, appropriate choice of casting.) CLIMAX MOMENT: Fruit Seller Kangin, wearing a platinum-blonde wig (presumably a woman's) is entirely too affectionate with the fruit he sells. In his haste to get away, Leeteuk crashes right into him and Kangin's beloved son/watermelon falls to the dirt ground, smashing and smooshing into pieces. Kangin crumples to the ground in utter agony. Someone give this boy an Emmy. That poor, poor Watermelon Baby! SIWON, SERIOUSLY!! CHILDREN ARE DYING HERE! Out for blood, Kangin runs after Leeteuk. 

Meanwhile, Eunhyuk is still dancing in the street as Kyuhyun steals all the female attention by performing random magic tricks (are you lost yet?), and in enters Donghae, The Bounty Hunter. I'm guessing the reason for this choice of role was the pun on his name with "Dog, The Bounty Hunter"? No? Well, otherwise it makes LITERAL NO SENSE that the most child-like member would be the one with the gun to haul in criminals. Oh, Hae, you troll. He's also trying to track Leeteuk, and is clearly unsure of where to go as he's unsurprisingly the worst Bounty Hunter ever. He enlists the help of Eunhyuk (sigh, again unsurprising) to help find Leeteuk. As they discuss their plan of attack, Leeteuk walks RIGHT BY THEM. Way to do your job, Donghae. Clearly, this is the job you were born to do. Not only does he not notice Leeteuk walking by, he STOPS HIM AND ASKS HIM IF HE'S SEEN LEETEUK. (This is the part where Mel realizes this really was the perfect role choice for Donghae. Because he would be that much of a Spacey Stacey.)

Best. Screencap. Ever. You're welcome.
The puzzle piece comes together too late for Hae and Teuk runs off. Kyu appears to be in cohoots with Teuk, too, and does some kind of magic trick that sends all of the women in a stampede (AH, THE BULLFIGHTER REFERENCE MAKES SENSE NOW) toward Donghae & Eunhyuk. Donghae ducks out and after Leeteuk while the women crowd Eunhyuk. Shindong, Kyuhyun and Leeteuk regroup (and yet by this time, Donghae and Siwon still have not done a damn thing to catch them -- beauty over brains, I guess) to clamor over their prize (well, mostly Teuk and Shindong -- Kyu's too busy doing magic tricks to the camera, whoops! Everyday he's shufflin'.). Trying to make a getaway, Shindong again proves his violent tendencies by sneaking up on innocent Ryeowook (WAE!) but Donghae does us a solid and comes out of nowhere, snarling with very intense eyebrow acting (he learned from the best...Siwon). But of course, because he's Donghae, he keeps his eyes on Shindong and Leeteuk sneaks by him. AGAIN. (Head smacks forehead.) In the struggle for the gun (which Donghae enjoys wayyyy too much), the gun temporarily points at poor Ryewook again who flips the *&$% out, screaming and shouting until both Hae & Shindong fall to the ground. He proceeds to assault Shindong's nether region (because this is Super Junior) with his only weapon -- a barber's brush.

With the Shindong threat handled (again, loosely defined term), Siwon appears out of nowhere to try and be of any help to this unfortunate town. He finds Eunhyuk macking on -- wait? -- a white girl?!? -- and asks him for help on Teuk's whereabouts. Unsurprisingly, Hyuk is of 0 help and Siwon pouts like a child (with a gun). Teuk suddenly appears and shoots Siwon. Siwon "dies" a Wild Wild West style death as everyone looks on in shock and agony (except Kyu...because...well, he's Kyu). Heechul steps up to the plate and grabs a gun to shoot Teuk who runs off just as Siwon sits back up, revealing the bullet hit his metal Sheriff's star, which is apparently impenetrable. (Guys, it's a tin-foil star, not a bullet-proof vest...)

Leeteuk runs to Heechul's bar (wait, wasn't Heechul just? But...what?) to cash in on his Crown on his own (if it's Sungmin's crown and he's the head of the bank, shouldn't he be going to the bank?) and Heechul grabs a gun but then GIVES TEUK THE MONEY. He celebrates (as he should -- none of this would happen in real life!) and as he walks out, he's met with the rest of Super Junior who are none to happy with him for a variety of reasons and rationales.

Siwon walks out with a gun to Heechul's head and then -- the twist -- Kyu walks out and hands the crown to Siwon and pulls out a shiny Sheriff's star, too! He pins it on as everyone gapes at him. Wait -- so there are two Sheriffs? If Kyu was undercover, why didn't he book Teuk (that rhymed) before when they were alone? It's clear he did it -- he had the stolen goods with him and just escaped from jail! WHAT THE ACTUAL F*&#^?

Everyone celebrates in the street as Leeteuk, Shindong, and Heechul are tied up to pay for their crimes, and Siwon taunts them with the Crown just out of their reach. 

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