TVXQ!, 'Tense': Track-By-Track Review
Producers: Lee Soo-man, Yoo Young-jin, Kenzie, Hitchhiker, Hwang Hyun
Label: S.M. Entertainment
Release Date: Jan. 6
At a showcase in Seoul for a Britney Spears and BoA show a little more than ten years ago -- on December 26, 2003, to be exact -- K-pop outfit TVXQ! made their debut performance. After a decade of defying the odds (five years is usually considered the expiration date for idol groups) and breaking international records, TVXQ! members Yunho and Changmin celebrate their anniversary and return to the K-pop scene with new album "Tense."
The 12-track release is the Korean superstars' seventh full-length Korean LP (released Jan. 6 by S.M. Entertainment), defined by throwback-inspired pop and sultry R&B productions that tackle the complexities of love but also show major love for their longtime fanbase -- known as Cassiopeia (Cassies for short).
The duo kicked off K-pop in 2014 right by dropping the ambitious, big band-inspired lead single "Something" (cut No. 2) on News Year's Day, following up with 11 other tracks sure to delight Cassies in addition to Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars and R&B fans.
Read through our track-by-track review of "Tense" and look out for more exclusive TVXQ! content celebrating the K-pop duo's 10-year milestone coming soon to Billboard's K-Town.
1. "Ten (10 Years)"
A spoken opening tells the listener, "I just want to say 'thank you' for the last 10 years" before a sultry, R&B beat backs the boys counting down from 10 to one -- a motif of the track a la Beyonce's own "Countdown," though, TVXQ! uses the countdown as background to their lyrics. While the beat is hot, this track is mainly for the fans who have stuck by from day one as Yunho and Changmin drop the titles of past singles (from 2004's "Hug" all the way to last years' "Humanoids") into the lyrics, promising fans: "I will never say goodbye."
The lead single off "Tense" sees Yunho and Changmin diving into big band territory with this ambitious jazz-pop single. Blaring trumpets are mixed in with a modern pop beat as the boys unleash their signature harmonies, even dabbling in a little doo-wop. The most thrilling moment has to be in the bridge when the track unexpectedly changes course into what is best described as bluesy dubstep: A drastic sonic shift brings rumbling drums and Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar riffs that feel like the tempo has moved into a dubstep-esque half-time, but, surprisingly, has not. While TVXQ! has gifted the K-pop scene with forward-thinking electronic-pop treats, this is a delightful delicacy that successfully combines the sounds of the past and today.
3. "Your Man"
Funky guitar riffs and shimmering violins open this track that continues the throwback sound heard in "Something." Regal-sounding trumpets get thrown into the mix as the boys tell of the cute ways they would honor a lover if they could be "your man."
4. "Moonlight Fantasy"
Despite a somber piano intro, a walking bass line soon sneaks into the track, transforming it into a feel good funk-rock track with melodies that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic Michael Jackson record, but with a modern production (look out for the DJ scratch section) that feels at home on Bruno Mars' "Unorthodox Jukebox" album.
With a grooving electronic-based beat plus lively trumpets, cut No. 5 is a blend between the modern-day R&B teased in "Ten (10 Years)" and the throwback motif heard in every other track at this point.
6. "Double Trouble"
Listeners get an aggressive curve ball thrown at them with the punchy brass, aggressive guitar riffs, gritty-dubstep bridge and powerful vocal belts in "Double Trouble." The bold production is only momentarily balanced out by the boys' heavenly harmonies on the pre-chorus before moving into the chorus where the boys are on the verge of screaming their frustrations of love -- your neck will tingle when the guys wail "Is this the love?!"
Devoid of the throwback elements, the racing R&B production features hard-hitting beats balanced out by a melodic piano line and sweeping violins with lyrics that use the metaphor of an off-road car ride to uncharted territories in a relationship.
8. "Smoky Heart"
A simple beat backs Yunho and Changmin's croonings at the start while the production's intricacies grows up to the synth-laden chorus. The "Smoky Heart" refers to the feeling of missing a lover, as if their absence is causing a fire in their lungs and its smoke will soon fill them up.
9. "Love Again"
Another smooth R&B production showing off the duo's powerful vocals -- and as fantastic as the guys sounds on the stripped-down production, 10 years into their careers we already know these boys can sing (really well!) and at this point in the album, the listener may wonder why tracks like this or "Smoky Heart" are such safe arrangements.
The tempo picks back up again with this fun, bouncy number. Good luck getting that repetitive "steppin' steppin'" hook out of your head after first listen.
A gorgeous orchestral ballad that sees the arrangement's edginess evolve as it progresses from twinkling xylophones and fluttering flutes to booming percussion and electric guitar riffs. The inspiring lyrics -- composed by Changmin -- tell of pushing on even in the toughest of times, a message TVXQ! can certainly relate to in their decade-long K-pop careers.
12. "Always With You"
The record wraps on a happy note with this feel-good rock-pop track. The lyrics tell of a relationship -- likely a metaphor for TVXQ! and their Cassies -- recalling their past memories, returning to one another and the guys making the promise to always be there. The album ends with a few of TVXQ!'s signature belts, an appropriate send off until the next time the boys return to their devoted global fanbase.
TVXQ!, "Tense" highlight medley