the short of it: You’ll get that Hwanhee is still doing the astonishing with his voice, but with each track you’ll also realize that its success is contingent in being able to balance toning down the harsh parts of his voice and letting loose for when it is called.
take-a-fourth: 떠나 지마 (Don’t Leave), 난 … (I…), 썸씽 스페셜 (Something Special)
tracklist: 1. 썸씽 스페셜 (Something Special) 2. 하다가 3. 난 … (I…) 4. 떠나 지마 (Don’t Leave) 5. 내가 더 아플게 (I’ll Hurt More for You)
Sample the voices of the male idol groups (quite a number right there), and you’d be pressed to find a voice like Hwanhee’s. However, unmistakable, thick and controlled as it is, it is also Hwanhee’s biggest contention in the album. “난 … (I…)”, for example, is almost an amazing ballad, if it weren’t for the boringly monotonous verses, a common problem, admittedly, among songs of lower register. It has a great chorus, the strings perfectly placed to enhance the climaxes and emotions of the song, but some of Hwanhee’s stylings (he sings the ends of some of the words as if he were running out of air: his tones becomes painfully shrill), ruin it. Such clashes, sadly, are apparent in most of the songs in H-Hour.
“썸씽 스페셜 (Something Special)”, an R&B track, made me realize Hwanhee’s similarities to John Legend, as well as how Hwanhee’s tone could use some of the smoothness of his counterpart’s voice so that his songs come down more easily. As one of the more “produced” songs in the album, the synthesizer and harmonizing supplement Hwanhee’s voice, which is harsh at some parts, resulting in the song becoming one of the easier listens in the album. The rap gives another dimension to the song and the awesome scream after the bridge is styling done perfectly, though mainly because the song had enough ‘soul’ in it from the get-go. My favorite song of the album, “떠나지마” has its fast-pace and catchy beats to balance Hwanhee’s voice. I love the beginning riff of the song, and when it picks up cueing in the falsettos, it’s a very catchy song.
The biggest irony then becomes when the three aforementioned songs come out on the good side of this balancing act, the title track “하다가” doesn’t. The formulaic use (at least in kpop nowadays) of the curiosity-piquing synth-beat guarantees the song is at least slightly interesting. In the end however, the song is monotonously-repetitive, particularly in the verses, and even considerably in the chorus. To be fair, the title track fails because it is held up to higher standards. Unfortunately, it has the added effect of turning off some people from listening to the rest of his album, which does have some good songs.
It is of course a good thing that Hwanhee has extensive experience. He does it all in the album: he’s consistently decent in his lower registers, he does a controlled and beautiful falsetto, and he belts out strong and high notes to a perfection. Unfortunately however, Hwanhee’s album has at least two shortcomings. First, his songs sometimes become indulgent in his ability to execute complicated riffs. Second, and more seriously, as a solo artist, he now has to find a way to soften the harsh parts of his voice. This could mean acquiring a smoother R&B tone; consider for example how in spite of Hwanhee clearly being the more talented singer, Taeyang’s smooth vocals helps his songs become more enjoyable. It could also mean being assiduous in balancing one’s voice with other aspects of the song. Upon listening to “Like A Man” for example, you realize that Fly to the Sky’s strength also lay in Brian Joo’s lighter tone balancing Hwanhee’s, as well as the harmonizing that came out of the two. It’s similar to how Jonghyun’s voice is one of the harshest I’ve heard, but in SHINee, it serves to become a highlight rather than a pain. In summary, H-Hour is a treat from the vocals of an experienced singer, but we’ll have to wait the hours to produce and release another album for Hwanhee to give us something that comes down more smoothly.