jonghyun déjà-boo
Last year Taemin became the first member of SM Entertainment’s second best boy band, SHINee, to go solo. His mini-album, Ace, was mostly excellent, but it also wasn’t much different to the edgy electro-pop and sweeping R&B power ballads that make up the bulk of the music from SM’s male artists.

SHINee’s second solo star is Jonghyun, and he’s gone in a much different direction than his bandmate. Always the most musical member of the group, Jonghyun’s stepped up as a co-writer and co-producer on almost all the tracks, and seems to have made an executive decision to drop all the electronic dance music in favour of a more organic, soulful experience heavy on straight-up R&B–not a surprise considering that he lists artists like Brown Eyed Soul and Wheesung as two of his favourites. (He even collaborated with the latter on Base’s “Hallelujah”.) There’s a strong pop flavour to Base too, but you get the feeling that it was SM’s idea and Jonghyun probably fought to minimize it as much as he was allowed to.

Pre-release single “Déjà-Boo” is a typically slinky slice of synthesized Korean funk, while official single “Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)” sounds like a more instrumental Brave Brothers’ production, as if a real band covered one of his songs live.

Almost all of the songs on Base sound grown ‘n’ sexy in one way or another. Even the choir-backed “Hallelujah,” which compares a beautiful woman to a religious experience, or the melancholy “Love Belt,” about a co-dependent couple with issues, both burst with romance and sexual intimacy.

Jonghyun even dials back his famous voice to accommodate his new sound (and let’s be clear: he’s one of the best male idol vocalists around), choosing to show a more technical side of his singing instead of going for the vocal showboating we hear so often.

The same can be said for his choreography: He doesn’t even dance during “Crazy (Guilty Pleasure),” and the “Déjà-Boo” performances are more about being suave and charming than executing any of the backbreaking dance moves that SHINee’s so well known for. The only time things ever get over the top is during the ridiculous (but also fabulous) “Hallelujah” stages, in which Jonghyun plays a horny Jesus by humping the air whilst striking a crucifixion pose.

Like most Janet Jackson albums, Base is the kind of baby-making pop & R&B music that’s made to serve as background music in the bedroom. The only song worth leaving out is “MONO-Drama,” which is one of those solid but conventional ballads we’ve been hearing fill SM albums for years.

Overall I’d say that this is the best solo that SM has put out in recent years. Henry’s was so generic it was painful, Zhoumi’s album had about two or three great songs but was bogged down in maudlin Chinese ballads, and Taemin’s was mostly flawless but lacked its own identity outside of SHINee. Base on the other hand feels like a fairly genuine representation of Jonghyun as an artist and the foundation of what will one day become a long and successful solo career once SHINee’s hung up their tight pants and floral-print jackets for good.

Besides, who can resist Jongie finally coming out of the closet and singing about cock on “Fortune Cookie”? JongKey was real y’all!!!