Review Summary: The auditory equivalent of dressing in your finest clothes, only to forget to iron and polish them.
Korean starlet IU has rapidly come a long way from being South Korea’s Little Sister (an informality bestowed upon those in the country that are well-known, and generally sweet and lovely). 2013’s Modern Times
and now Palette
are hardly departures from innocence in the same way as a certain Miss Cyrus (other tearaways are also available); still, they follow a trend towards maturity distanced from cutesy teeny pop, through Modern Times
’ swing and bossa-nova to her newest, an exploration of contemporary R&B and delicate ballads. Frustratingly, it doesn’t feel wholly natural yet.
Opener ‘dlwlrma’ suffices as a bridging point between Modern Times
wonderfully, the former's swing influences proving to be the dominating characteristic. From here though, certainly until ‘Full Stop,’ IU embraces her new R&B focus wholeheartedly. The cool downtempo of the title track is irresistibly catchy, while imbued with an urbaneness unthinkable from her earlier works; downtempo is replaced for smoother jazz notes in ‘Can’t Love You Anymore’ (benefitting further from OHHYUK’s soulful contribution), yet its effect is largely the same. ‘Jam Jam’ is subject to some irritating vocals, but its house-y synth section bounces along with such conviction that, ultimately, one still finds themselves dancing away by its conclusion.
It’s unfortunate that Palette
’s greatest weakness should be something as simple as its structure, especially considering the ‘offending tracks’ are all beautifully executed when individually assessed. It should never have been the case, but its ballad-loaded rear means it really works better when listening on shuffle. Piano-led ‘Full Stop’ actually comes as a welcome change of pace, her jazzy lilt complementing its movie-credits juxtaposition of peace and grandeur particularly well. The problem is, Palette
never picks itself up again; while acoustic ‘Through the Night’ is a gorgeous bittersweet piece, and ‘Love Alone’ is practically auditory gossamer, the modern energy of its first half feels decidedly absent, as though asphyxiated. Spread more generously throughout, rather than lumped at the end, its ballads may have made Palette
an extraordinarily good pop album. To be fair, it is – just not in the order in which IU presents it. Listen to it once, and then arrange it to your own liking; it's the spit and polish this album deserves.