It's not fair. I know, it's not. For one, this review should have been written a week ago, but then, you know. Jessica. SNSD. You know what else isn't exactly fair? Comparing Ailee's Magazine to her almost incomparable Invitation or A's Doll House. Two incredible EP's that would be hard for any artist to match. But the fact is, they're both on the table and a part of Ailee's body of work. It'd be strange to not acknowledge them. With that in mind, how does Magazine hold up to the scrutiny? Let's take a look, shall we?
Don't Touch Me
As far as promotional songs go, "Don't Touch Me" is both different and similar from Ailee's other popular singles. While not holding the memorable hook of say "I Will Show You," "Don't Touch Me" still emits immense power. Fully embracing a western Gospel choir-sound (preparing for an American release, perhaps?), "Don't Touch Me" excels as an anthem for mistreated women. Unlike "I Will Show You," this video forgoes the male lead for Ailee, As the lyrics show: "I won't go back to you. I don't love. I'm out! I'm out!" Ailee is through with all that. She no longer cares about showing you what you missed, you mistreated her and she wants you out of her life, gone. The power is there, as are the vocals, but Ailee almost seems over that too. She no longer has to prove to the audience that she can belt out with the best of them. She has already proven that she has the makings of, and this is no slur: a Diva.
What's odd is that, though it's upbeat, "Don't Touch Me" feels somehow understated compared to her other solo hits. There are those moments where Ailee breaks free, but this song, and really this full album, is a jump forward in maturity, in calm, and the cost? Could very well be the raw uninhibited energy and emotional resonance of her previous work.
Beyond "Don't Touch Me" we can see more of the understated vocals and music that defines much of the album. In theory and in practice, there is positively nothing wrong with "Crazy," though on first listen it's unspectacular. Teamed with Dynamic Duo, they arguably carry most of the song, but Ailee holds it together, and though it's not a standout, it's still a solid song. But again, those wanting Ailee to break out may be disappointed as I was on first listen (but give it another chance).
Those thirsting for a ballad will get their taste of heartbreak with "Goodbye Now," which, much like "Don't Touch Me," is really a farewell to love and disappointment. Observe the lyrics: "Goodbye now, goodbye for real, leave me. Forget all the times we spent together." And the song's fine too, much like "Crazy." But again, it's not a standout. Worse, it's forgettable (I've had to listen to this repeatedly because it leaves my mind almost immediately after hearing it).
And here's the thing. It's unreasonable to expect every song to stand spectacularly on its own. Unfair even. But A's Doll House? I'm listening to "I'll be Okay" right now because I've been thinking about it all day. And it's hardly Ailee's best song. So what are these songs missing? Musical complexity? Exuberance? Or is it, quite simply, joy?
But what about "Sudden Illness?" you may ask. Yes, "Sudden Illness" certainly feels more alive than "Crazy" or "Goodbye Now" combined. It builds and quiets and erupts much like "Teardrop," which may be the best song on the album. Ailee let's loose! There's sadness but there's fun here too, and though joy may be missing, this song jumps. If there's a second promotional single, surely "Teardrop" will be it.
Invitation and A's Doll House cast a long shadow on this album whether one wants to admit it or not, and though I'm not disappointed, I can't help but feel that understated feeling for Magazine.
"Don't Touch Me" is a stellar song and it's buffered by others that will satisfy most Ailee fans. But the understated songs hold back something epic in scale, not quite fit for a diva preparing for an American Kpop invasion. Though you can argue that Invitation tried too hard or was too pop (I don't have those views), it did hold that grandeur that is missing from Magazine. Ailee has a song where "Heaven" is in the chorus, repeated multiple times. It's absurd. But it's also beautiful, and yes, epic, and yes, it makes me feel every single time I listen to it. Is it wrong that I want that from Magazine too?
Timothy Moore writes from Chicago. He blogs at Read My Blog Please, and edits at Ghost Ocean Magazine. His biases are T-ara, Block B, Nine Muses, Brown Eyed Girls, and Girl's Day.