Album review: SHINee - Don't Call Me

Album review: SHINee - Don't Call Me | Random J Pop

As I publish this in the Devil's year that is 2021, it's only been 3 years since SHINee released an album. In that time we've had member Taemin release 2 solo albums and one as part of SuperM, and we've had Key release an album. Also, 3 years ain't shit if you're a fan of American, British or Japanese artists who leave 3 to 4 gaps in-between albums. But we know time moves different in K-Pop, and that 3 years in K-Pop years is like a decade, in which a lot has changed. But SHINee are still the group we always knew, and their seventh studio album Don't Call Me is a reassurance of that.

SHINee from the very beginning was a group that SM Entertainment seemed to pay attention to when it came to their music and their sound, which resulted in far more consistent and quality controlled albums, than some of the other acts; much like f(x). So it's great to see that nothing has changed with the release of Don't Call Me. Although the lead title song is one hell of a stumble.

"Don't Call Me" is the weakest song on the album. Not because it's bad. But because it doesn't feel representative of the album itself or of SHINee themselves. This song was clearly given to SHINee to showcase a harder musical and visual edge. And also because the title offered itself up for some cool promotional activities. The problem with "Don't Call Me" is that it just doesn't sound like a SHINee song. Sure, SHINee have done songs like it in the past with "Alive". But the same thing applied when SHINee did this sound back then - it didn't suit them. One thing you can always count on with SHINee is that their songs work for all members, but "Don't Call Me" doesn't. Key and Minho own the entire song between them. Taemin sounds good on it, being the chameleon that he is. But Onew is not done one lick of justice on this song. His voice and tone just doesn't suit it.

"Don't Call Me" was originally intended for BoA's 2020 comeback song. But she passed on it, sought a different song and went for "Better" instead. Her reasoning was that she felt the song was better suited for a group, and she's absolutely right. Just not this group. "Don't Call Me" would have worked far better with SuperM. 

The crazy thing with BoA passing on "Don't Call Me" for "Better", is that "Don't Call Me" would have suited BoA far more than SHINee, and "Better" would have made for a great SHINee song because of the brightness of the chorus.

Don't Call Me is business as usual from track 2 onwards, with "Heart Attack" - which absolutely should have been used as the title track. It's everything that you would expect from a SHINee song. It's funky, it's melodic, it's fun and every member sounds good on it. It really makes me question why SM chose not to go with "Heart Attack" when it's such an obvious choice for a SHINee comeback song, which is true to the group and also sets them apart from the likes of SuperM, NCT and EXO - two of whom put out "Don't Call Me"-esque songs in 2020.

One thing that SM Entertainment haven't always been great at is giving their acts material which reflects not only the point at which they are in their careers, but also their age. SM fumbled with this a lot with Girls' Generation - slingshotting those girls between the cute shit they started out with and more grown concepts. It was a mess, but they got away with it because everything they put out was a guaranteed hit. SHINee's sound and image have always felt far more considered, and had a far more natural progression which made sense. Even amongst all of the other boy bands that SM have in their roster, SHINee are still the ones who have the best level of quality control when it comes to their music. Don't Call Me sounds how I would expect a SHINee album to sound in 2021. Slickly produced, wholly mid-tempo, but still funky and with a great energy. But the cool thing we get with these songs is grown subject matters. SHINee aren't doing crazy frog impersonations or singing songs about nonsense. They're singing about relationships, love and romance with a directness that they hadn't really done before. SHINee are no longer group of kids. They're grown. And it's great to have an album of songs which reflect that.

With other acts at SM, we sometimes see a group have one sound with their Korean releases, another sound with their Japanese releases, then some members go solo and have a different sound, then the group reforms and puts out an album, and there's no sense of all of the musical ground that had been covered in all of the endeavours. Again, we saw Girls' Generation go through this. Where-as with SHINee, it's not the case. Don't Call Me is a departure from the sound of the Tropipop heavy The Story of Light, but still retains the DNA of what constitutes a SHINee song. And this album also doesn't infringe or compromise on Taemin's solo material. In fact, we see it bleed into this album a little, with traces of it coming through in songs such as "Cøde". And we even get traces of sounds that Key had explored with his solo album. There is a definite separation between Taemin's solo material and that of SHINee. But there is also a sense of a different energy being brought to this album as a result of the experiences that each member of SHINee had when they were doing their own thing.

Whilst SHINee have had the grace of having SM actually care about their sound enough to have SHINee carve out their own sonic identity, they're not immune to the SM sound. The SM sound isn't as blanketed or as templated as it once was around 2009 - 2011; a period where SHINee and Super Junior's sounds overlapped, and even Super Junior and Girls' Generations's sounds overlapped. Now it's a case of SM having a selection of sounds that they sprinkle across their roster; one of which is mid-tempo grooves with hints of lounge-jazz and disco. These are sounds that BoA has been wholly embracing since 2015, but SHINee have dipped into it now and again, with songs such as "Lipstick" from 1 of 1 and "Romance" from Odd. But lounge-jazz and disco are the foundation of the sound on this album. So you may hear certain songs on Don't Call Me and think 'Oh, I could hear BoA on this' or 'Oh, this reminds me a little of the Better album'. It's not a bad thing. But it's an observation that some may make and take differently.

BoA passed on a lot of songs before settling on what we now know as Better. Minho openly told Lee Soo-Man on camera that if there's a lot of material left over from BoA's album, that he should give it to SHINee, and he may have done just that. So perhaps "Don't Call Me" isn't the only song that was handed to BoA first which was then handed to SHINee.

Don't Call Me doesn't have a lot of really big, bombastic songs, which is probably why SM felt the need to include a song like "Don't Call Me", but this isn't a slight on what is a wholly consistent album. K-Pop often dictates that very act should have a song that's big, loud and colourful, and that the album should follow through on this - but sometimes the pursuit of this for albums can end up ruining them. So it's great to hear that this wasn't a goal for SM with SHINee's comeback. That said, I cam imagine that some may find this album a little too lax. Especially those who were fans of Odd and The Story of Light which featured a higher ratio of those types of songs that do hit you in the face.

Don't Call Me isn't SHINee's most memorable album. It's short and it's sweet, but it's light on songs and moments that really stick, and it doesn't push SHINee's sound as far forward as I would have liked. Still, Don't Call Me is a good album. If you're a SHINee fan, you'll like it. And if you've never really been into SHINee before, then the more mellow and subdue vibe of this album may be the SHINee album that works for you.


■ Heart Attack
■ Marry You
■ Cøde 🏆 J's fave
■ Kiss Kiss
■ Body Rhythm
■ Attention