AU ABROAD

Hello Asia! Album Review: Leehom Wang - "Your Love 你的愛" (Taiwan, 2015)

In 2008 Taiwanese superstar Leehom Wang released his album Heartbeat 心跳 and labelled it an album that he dedicated especially to the guitar. Since then I've been wondering when he would dedicate an album to the piano, and he finally has. Although it's not a widely marketed point of this album, it's clear that in Leehom's long-awaited 2015 album Your Love 你的愛, Leehom's supporting instrument of choice was most definitely his beloved piano. Mainly classified by Leehom as an EDM-based album, the musical maestro has seamlessly blended this lesser-known genre in with elements of Chinese mainstream pop to create a completely different listening experience for all listeners. I believe that Leehom's signature sound is not overly apparent to fans given the long time he's spent in the industry. But it is nevertheless always present in his music. And this signature sound of his always aims for the same thing-the element of surprise.

From The dragon's descendant 龍的傳人 to The 18 Martial arts 十八般武藝 and now to Your Love 你的愛, Leehom has been unafraid-now more so than ever before in experimenting with new sounds that will make people sit up and notice. His Your love 你的爱 album being pretty much a one-man show where he composed almost all the songs alone and wrote all the lyrics seems to have been a little too much for Leehom himself to handle, but he pulls it off well on the whole.

In terms of vocals, I'm sure we all know Leehom is a wonderful singer. Versatile and with a beautiful timbre, what could be wrong with his singing in this album? Well sometimes having too much versatility may be a problem too! I feel Leehom has a little too indulgent of his voice in this album, especially in showing off his rich and resonant falsetto and high range in places where it may not have been too suitable. As in there was not much except piano and a little strings to buoy the song, Leehom's voice was even more prominent. I found that on the high notes, Leehom used his resonant falsetto a little too liberally where he could have used a more muted , breathy tone, especially as this song is quite introverted in nature. And as for ‘Dream life夢寐以求’, from the first note of the song his voice was already up in the clouds, a little thin and cartoony when paired with the upbeat arrangements. If he could have used a fuller sound to sing the chorus, it would have been even more perfect for me. Nevertheless, it's pertinent to mention that Leehom's album is chock-full of different genres that all require different vocal techniques and him being able to weave between them seamlessly is already a feat in itself. I do have to commend his beautiful breath control and dynamic abilities in songs such as ‘Heaven and Earth 天翻地覆’ where he was actually able to control higher notes without altering the volume of his voice much at all. This kind of R n B ballad suits his voice perfectly and he was able to twist each and every note to his will.

As for the songwriting process of this album, I feel this was one of the most well done aspects. If I'm not wrong, this is one of the first times Leehom has been able to write an entire albums' songs all by himself, writing the lyrics himself too. Every single song is immensely listenable and brings something different to the table. After a week I could remember every single song, no mixing up of song names here. What Leehom did really well was signposting and tagging each song in his own unique way. Each has a different hook to it which will make you remember it almost instantly. For ‘Protect 保護’ it was the two-sentence long chorus, for 'Dream Life 夢寐以求' it was the "yi li aa ey yi li aa o" thing he had going on in the chorus. For his collaboration with Avicii for 'Forget Me 忘我' it was the little piano melody they interspersed throughout the song. Leehom did extraordinarily well in this aspect. One thing I had an issue with thou was that Leehom's 'Your Love 你的爱' actually sounds almost exactly like his previous song 'Our Song 我们的歌' in terms of the verses. People do trip up sometimes, but I think quality control is important in creating a complete and well rounded album.

In terms of the lyrics, I think Leehom did a good job in that he wrote them all straight from his heart. Some of the songs such as 'Cracked Heart 心裂' had lyrics so raw and emotional that I couldn't help delving into his story along with his voice. I especially like the lyrics for 'Weibo Accent 微博腔' too, as they seem to be a criticism of young people's addiction to social media (guilty as charged). All the lyrics roll well loft the tongue too and are easy to remember and sing along to, which is a very important aspect of lyric writing. A big thumbs up to Leehom from me.

In terms of vocal arrangements (but I think it's mostly a mixing issue), I had to strain to hear the backing vocals which were so soft I could hardly discern them from Leehom's leading vocals themselves. And I don't mean in a good way. Especially in '七億分之一One in seven billion' , it pretty much sounded like there was only one voice when the backings were harmonizing with the lead, which made the whole sound emptier which was probably not the intention of putting in the backing vocals. In some of the harmonizations seemed wishy washy and passive, so reedy thin that the sounds could easily be blown away with the wind. Also if Leehom had used perhaps a female singer for the backup vocals or at least someone with a less resonant voice I believe this would have improved the overall quality of the song too. As Leehom's voice is already very resonant on its own, him using his own voice in the backing vocals makes some of the songs a little jarring on the ear. I had the same issue in his eighth track 'Protect 保護' where the backing vocals were jarring and confusing at times due to the quality of his voice. Overall I feel the backing vocals were the biggest issue in this album for me.

In terms of instrumental arrangements, I found them to be especially moving in terms of songs such as '天翻地覆 Heaven and Earth', '心裂 Cracked Heart', '你的愛 Your Love' and 'In Your Eyes'. All of the above mentioned had this absolutely beautiful orchestral sound which was all-encompassing and elegant in their composition. Clear instrumental lines and every note played to perfection. In '七億分之一'One in seven billion' Leehom once again introduces a sound he's familiar with quite perfectly in terms of arrangements, locking in a snazzy R n B sound that has you nodding along to the beat. However when it comes to the more challenging EDM sections of the album I find some of the arrangements cluttered and confusing. Especially '夢寐以求Dream life' which was one of my favourite songs on the album, there were about four to five sections all with different EDM beats and rhythms. I feel that the same or perhaps an even more heightened emotional effect would be achieved with a simpler arrangement for this song. However I do feel '微博腔Weibo accent' was very well done with a grinding beat and cute accents that were versatile and uncomplicated, moving along with a more satirical tone of Leehom's to his 'cheesy jingle' chorus, creating a juxtaposition that put through his criticism of modern society clearly.

All in all, this album is certainly a breakthrough for the Chinese music industry, once again pioneered by our superstar Mr Wang Leehom. Deeply drawing from the EDM genre, he's managed to pull it off with aplomb, creating an album that overall pleases mainstream listeners while staying true to core elements of the genre. Although there are a few kinks to work out, this one-man show doesn't seem to be slowing down in his (relatively) old age at all. As one of my first and foremost idols, he's taught me a lot about Chinese music and continues to do so even today. I'm honoured to be able to review his music and to give my opinion on something that has so painstakingly been created for listeners worldwide, spreading his message of peace and love by sharing it not only with Chinese speaking listeners, but giving English speaking listeners a chance to engage in discussion with our music and our culture too.

Review score: 7.8 out of 10

Your Love 你的愛 is out now