TVXQ has released a new album for their 15th anniversary and they are celebrating by continuing their New Chapter series and show that the it is possible to hang on to your roots while still managing to surprise your fanbase.

If there is one thing that comes to mind when we listened to this album, it’s the word “adult.” Being in the game as long as they have (despite the fact that they are still just 30 and 32), the have come to a crossroads in their careers. They don’t have anything to prove anymore, but there is no doubt that they still want to put out projects that sell well and make an impact. They could have easily gone with a concept that had them singing over more trap-style beats and giving a lot more turn up, but they decided to do what they do best and be themselves. There is a lot more natural instrumentation in this set which gives off the air that comes from hearing them perform tracks with their live band. Nothing sounds outdated–even with the retro feel that a lot of them have–but they don’t sound like two men trying to be 17 or 23 all over again and that is something that we can appreciate.

The tracks all have an interesting feel to them in terms of sound. As we said, nothing sounds antiquated or out of time, but that nostalgic feel that many of them have gives most of the songs a unique flavor against a lot of music that is currently out and allows the duo to really play with their vocals in a way that shows just how pure the talent is on their side. There are artists who need flash in every production to make sure they stand out; TVXQ proves that their flash is simply a decadent icing on a very well-baked cake. The beatwork of nearly every track beacons you to bop (or bodyroll) along and manage to be extremely catchy despite how minimal they can come across in comparison to some of their other albums.

The vocals are strong in a way that we weren’t expecting…and not for the reason that some might think. One of the things that singers have to face as they age is the slow loss of the upper register. Vocalists who have long careers often find themselves having to rearrange songs from the earliest years of their discography because they can no longer hit those high notes and sustain those runs. It is very clear that this has not yet become an issue for TVXQ as Changmin comes with some of his sweetest highs yet (although, admittedly, a lot softer in tone but that’s more a match for the tracks in question) and Yunho’s tenor and falsetto are far more solid and less nasal than in years past. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on the title track, Truth, where they employ the full use of their ranges and transition very easily between lower and higher notes from section to section.

Something that is a first for us is that we have absolutely fallen in love with one of Changmin’s non-R&B solo tracks. While they are rarely tracks we would outright skip, they also aren’t tracks that we tend to seek out when playing our favorites from their albums. Beautiful Stranger is a beautiful exception as his soft and sweet tone are a resonant. We also appreciate the buildup of the production as the track–which is very much a Korean-style ballad–as starts off with a sad piano before giving us violins and epic drums that ramp up tension and take the singer out of his signature high range to deliver one of the prettiest second verses that we have heard in a while. The sliding notes are so subtle and yet deliver so much in terms of emotion that you find yourself closing your eyes and just…being. It is the kind of song that is meant to highlight the vocals of the person singing it and Changmin more than delivered.

But the standout of this set has to be Yunho’s solo, City Lights. This is the track that mesmerized in the Clue #2 teaser and had a lot of fans and new listeners alike shook at how deep the bass was. We were a little worried that there was no way it could live up to its promise as the description of the track said that it leaned into Yunho’s falsetto and featured a verse from NCT’s Taeyong…and then the album dropped and told us to shut our bitch-asses up. Yunho sounds amazing as he not only gives falsetto but dips into his natural baritone/bass range and leans into a soft, breathy deliver that screams seduction. The song manages to be both darkly sexual in its throbbing undertones and, yet, strangely bright in sections thank to the subtle piano melody and Yunho’s strategic use of his upper register. And the Taeyong verse is a great highlight. Coming in at a full 16 bars, his deeper voice is the perfect tone for a track for this and the quicker pace of his flow is a good offset to the mid-tempo swagger of the rest of the song.

Note: We’ve seen some of the arguments about Taeyong’s lyrics and we are of the opinion that the lyrics make sense but that he lost an opportunity to step his game up and deliver a verse a lot more on point than what we got. Whiplash sounds sensuous as hell and his verse is about his sister; he could have come stronger than he did.

We cannot recommend this album highly enough. While we would have loved for it to be longer than seven tracks, we understand that the duo are still touring and have a two-month old album in Japan to promote so studio time was likely short. But if you are fan of their music, especially the diversity of styles that they show on their Korean releases, this is going to make you very happy.

Our favorite tracks are Jelly Love, City Lights, and Beautiful Stranger. The most skippable is Morning Sun.

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