Royal Pirates released their third mini album, entitled 3.3, on December 1 after a long, tumultuous hiatus. Everybody has heard by now that bassist James Lee suffered a freak accident and injured his hand, leading him to (hopefully, temporarily) give up playing bass – he’s currently focusing on keyboards. The injury postponed the original planned comeback, but health should always come first. However, the long break meant I had some trepidation about what the third album would be like – but Royal Pirates did not disappoint.
Let’s start with the MV for title track "Run Away" – it’s a doozy. Dark, emotional, and visually stunning, "Run Away" is a far cry from Royal Pirates' previous offerings – the fun synth-pop "Shout Out," the lighthearted "Drawing The Line," and the smooth tones of "Love Toxic." "Run Away" immediately lets listeners know that Royal Pirates are back, and they’ve had some time to think. They’ve changed – and for the better. Royal Pirates want to "run away," but the question is, from what?
While not immediately obvious, some of the symbolism for the MV is explained in the behind the scenes "Making Of" the MV. But, of course, some of it is self-explanatory. The dark, empty stage space the Royal Pirates are playing on could mean any number of things – from feeling like they’re on their own with each other as a band, to feeling alone on an individual level. Or, even, it could just be because it looks pretty. Either way, it’s very atmospheric, and gives a great opening to the symbolism that the band themselves explain in the behind the scenes.
In the MV, drummer Sooyoon is holding a flower in his hands, very carefully. The petals are then blown away from him. The behind the scenes of the MV sees Sooyoon explain that the flower represents his mother, and how as she gets older Sooyoon feels she is further away from him. So the flower represents an attempt to hold onto loved ones, only to have them slip away. The lyrics echo this: they beg someone to "stay with me, even if everything else is gone." This image is echoed for singer and guitarist Moon, who holds a white rose before placing it carefully on a bass guitar. Moon has talked openly several times about the loss of his older brother, who was the band’s bassist before James Lee, when they were still going by Fading From Dawn. So, once again, the flowers represent loss – and it’s a very evocative, emotional image.
The symbolism James plays out is much more overt – having been unable to play bass for several months now, James literally destroys his bass against a giant metal shield, Royal Pirates’ favored icon. No second guesses there: James has had to deal with his own individual sense of loss, and he has stated publicly that the experience has given him time to grow and re-evaluate, and so this could be interpreted as James becoming a new person and basically destroying the person he used to be. It’s all very dark in tone, and almost upsetting. I certainly had to take a few moments after my first viewing of the MV. The lyrics have the band explaining that "forever without a goodbye," they suffer – and they’re on their way to those they love so they can run away with them.
In addition to the overall sense of loss, the MV displays a theme of trying to hold onto something, and ending up losing it anyway. Royal Pirates seem to feel, to an extent, that they’ve been playing the idol game a little too much, and they seem to be saying (or explicitly saying, in James’ case) that they want to make music more on their own terms from now on. Drummer Sooyoon’s re-brand as "EXSY" (ex-s[oo]y[oon]) also makes this yet clearer: he’s the ex-Sooyoon, different from the Sooyoon he used to be. The MV sees Sooyoon chained to his drums, and sees Moon’s singing being played on a screen right in front of his face, as if to manipulate him. Sooyoon’s chains fall off him, and Moon forcibly pushes the screen away from himself. So it seems as if patience has been wearing thin, and Royal Pirates want to be their own artists. Being an idol band and all, this may prove difficult – but it’s nice to see Royal Pirates willing to try and fight for things on their own terms. More than that, it’s refreshing.
As for musical tone, "Run Away" is much heavier than the band’s previous singles. Heavier guitars, dirtier production, and generally more angry in tone, "Run Away" isn’t what I was expecting. In reality, it’s so much better – changes in concept can sometimes miss the point, but for Royal Pirates it feels very honest. They’ve had to deal with some things, and work through some obstacles – so it makes sense that the music would reflect that. As well as that, there are previously unused elements like James’ keyboards and launchpad, as well as the scratch during the bridge by Enik Lin of US-based band IAMMEDIC. I could talk about it all day, but "Run Away" is a different experience for Royal Pirates fans, and it needs to be seen to be believed.
The darker tone of the title track and the MV also translates to the rest of the album. The angriest of all tracks on 3.3 is "Dangerous," which features Moon almost screaming at the end of the track, "I don’t f***ing want you!", and a speed change during the bridge featuring chugging guitars and heavy bass. It’s not something expected from an idol album, but it certainly makes a point. There’s also the hopeful sounding "Let U Go," the quiet, sad "Without You" – featuring lyrics like “I’m a nobody without you” – the funky "U&I," and the upbeat but still somehow solemn "Too Fast." "Too Fast" struck me immediately for its similarities, musically, to many songs by now-defunct Chicago-based pop-punk band "Kill Hannah," who were known for their emotional lyrics and electro-pop elements. Overall, 3.3 seems like a mixed bag, even if it seems sad and angry and lyrically like the band are missing someone or something. So I wouldn’t recommend this album if you’re looking for some fun jams or some pop-y escapism. But I would recommend it heartily to old Royal Pirates fans, new fans, or those looking for something a little different in Kpop.