‘Never Gonna Dance Again : Act 1,’ Taemin’s 3rd album and an icon of his growth as an artist over the past 12 years. Released on September 7, 2020, this nine-song album is pieced together with grooving songs that explore musical and lyrical themes that show the best of the 27-year-old artist. The finesse of his vocals and lyrical delivery shows the evidence of his work with SHINee members and different artists and coaches over the years as well as his personal stylistic choices.
As a whole, ‘Never Gonna Dance Again : Act 1’ is a cohesive statement of artistry that boasts of a definitive Taemin style: an album that makes you want to dance. In spite of the rather jarring transition from the smooth title song “Criminal” into the hard-hitting “Black Rose,” the album nonetheless is a 30-minute listening experience worthy of being on repeat. Taemin utterly killed this comeback.
Leading up to the album release, we were graced with two videos of the 80s-reminiscent synthwave title song “Criminal,” and pre-release tracks “Famous,” the Korean release of his Japanese single, and “2 Kids,” an ode to growing up through heartbreak. Although the videos are amazing in their own right, ‘Never Gonna Dance Again : Act 1‘ is an album that stands alone against the backdrop of the powerful comeback promotion, placing it as his strongest album to date. The other albums stood strongest in tandem with the music videos, music show appearances, dance practices, and other promotional events, but this new release holds its own because of the strength of Taemin’s vocals and how he navigates his voice through the album.
This pulsating title track straight out of 1985 has Taemin playing with notes all over his vocal register, digging into the grit of his lower end and absolutely killing his melodic higher notes. It’s immediately addicting with its repetitive melody that drops straight into a driving intro as he sings about the criminal who stole his heart and entangled him in a painful love. This song really showcases how much his singing has grown as his voice sounds strong, controlled, and focused.
Coming straight at you with Kid Milli’s low-pitched, sing-song rap, it is also a song about painful love that rolls with the mix between Taemin’s sensual vocalizations and rhythmic delivery and Kid Milli’s compelling raps. Taemin’s vocals tie this song musically to “Criminal” with its dynamic range and lyrically dark themes.
With chords reminiscent of Jason Robert Brown and a beat that mimics footsteps, this song really flows like Taemin is passing by a love who is a stranger despite shared memories. Here he explores his upper registers with a powerful sincerity that has fully blossomed with his vocal maturity. The interaction of his voice, the beat, and the repeated piano chords create the driving force that makes this song so catchy that it’s worth playing over and over.
Continuing the lyrical theme of painful love, here Taemin sings of dreaming of a love that will never come true. Musically, we are dished a castanet and string-based, classic tango rhythm with Taemin’s tenor mimicking their sharp delivery. When the beat drops and joins the tango rhythm, the song becomes something that urges one to get up and dance. The stylistic difference in Taemin’s vocals in this song as compared to the others showcases how versatile of an artist he now is.
This is the Korean version of the single from his third Japanese EP, “Famous,” a song that is as fabulous as Taemin is. Again, it continues the tale of a dark romance, this one under the heat of the limelight. Musically, this tune doesn’t fit with the others as it is straight-forward, simple, and has a short hook. However, it still resembles a Taemin-geared dance track that allows him to show off the clarity of his vocals, and, of course, his amazing execution of the choreography.
What a powerful song this is and for more than one reason. It is here that you will hear the camaraderie between Jonghyun and Taemin. Before he passed, Jonghyun was known to coach the maknae of SHINee on his vocals, and “Clockwork” shows the world, “Yes, Taemin learned well.” The lyrics speak of a man who is trapped in the memories of a painful breakup that replay like clockwork. The walking piano chords lead the way for an extremely beautiful performance by Taemin whose relaxed-sounding, well-shaped vocals belie the pain of the words he sings. The lilting rhythm of the melody weaves beautifully with the ticking of the clock and highlights once again that Taemin’s control over his instrument is just amazing.
“Just Me and You”
Thematically, this song breaks with the rest of the album. And, there is just no getting around it. “Just Me and You” is a sensual, romantic ode to the beautiful moments when a couple is alone together. Taemin vamps on the lyrics with syncopation and melodic repetition that drives the song forward. Vocally it’s not difficult, but it is in that simplicity that you can hear how cleanly Taemin sings, which highlights the melody and the intimacy of the lyrics – a very powerful vocal decision for a very powerful artist.
Back to old school and R&B, Taemin sings about going in circles after a breakup in this song whose name means “square” in Korean. This song fits more squarely into a pop mold rather than a dance track. Again, this song is driven more by the chords and lyrics than vocal prowess, which is definitely a deliberate decision made by Taemin whose tone is solid and clear as a bell.
An abbreviated, mid-tempo electropop anthem to growing up through heartbreak, this prologue single reflects how much Taemin has grown as a man and as an artist. Matching the denouement of the album begun by “Just Me and You,” “2 KIDS” doesn’t take on anything too dramatic musically or lyrically. Instead, it coasts through its playtime with Taemin’s light vocals floating on top. The intimate melody and lyrics hold a lovely “goodbye” sentiment for the end of the album.
All-in-all, this album is a hefty piece of vocal and artistic mastery by our artist Taemin. Not every song is a technical feat or a masterpiece, but together, it’s a listening experience worthy of every SHAWOL and non-SHAWOL alike.
Full Album Playlist
Written by: Lisa E.