Key begins his second solo album ‘Gasoline’ by wearing a crown – and ends it by declaring he doesn’t need one. On the bombastic opening number ‘Gasoline’, he calls himself the “champ” and dons ornate headdresses throughout its lavish music video. But by the last song, ‘Proud’, he’s declaring “Man, I’m so proud,” claiming that he won’t feel sad even if the “crown” on his head disappears. After 14 long years as a member of SHINee – the Princes of K-pop – Key knows he doesn’t need to be officially ordained a royal to move like one.
Key made it clear he’d reached a new stage of self-realisation when he released his debut album ‘Bad Love’ last year. “I finally became ‘me,’” he told NME in an interview at the time. “This album is the album-version of Key.” It took him nearly 15 years to reach the point where he could make music for himself, saturating his albums with influences and colours regardless of how uncharacteristic they may seem or how vulnerable they make him.
The contrasting bookends of the new album – ‘Proud’ and ‘Gasoline’ – demonstrate Key’s confidence. ‘Gasoline’, with its booming drum beat, heavy chants, and a marching band arrangement over a hip-hop progression, is loud and arrogant.
In comparison, the R&B setting on ‘Proud’ is much simpler and more personal, its calm confidence almost saying that the best thing Key has done for himself is to be who he is.
Just like ‘Bad Love,’ Key’s fingerprints are all over this record, making for lots of pleasant surprises. ‘Bound’ opens with him singing in a lower tenor as steady beats and bass are layered with atmospheric howls à la Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The horror continues on ‘Villain’, a collaboration with NCT’s Jeno. Over bouncy synths and delightful pinball sound effects, their paced rapping and vocals resemble a villain’s soliloquy, making the track more sinister.
On ‘Burn,’ Key reminds us of his ‘Face’ days. The pop sound punctuated by rhythmic guitar is a flavour Key has perfected, and he drives it home with his vocals, especially on that ridiculously addictive post-chorus. Its blazing intensity also sits in delightful contrast to ‘Ain’t Gonna Dance,’ another track where Key dives into the complexity of relationships. Here, Key exercises caution as he sees through the mind games. The opening melodies on the song evoke the mating calls of birds, who dance around each other to test the waters. As the song segues into the pre-chorus, drums match the lyrics beat for beat – but when you might expect the song to pick up speed, it dives back into a teasing slow pace now layered with bass. It’s a delightful interpretation of a push-and-pull dynamic.
Complementary songs seem to be a running theme across ‘Gasoline’’s 11-song tracklist. ‘Guilty Pleasure’ sports a synthesizer and bass combination best enjoyed on a late-night drive. A similar lightness permeates ‘Delight’, which is perfect for a summer afternoon drive by the beach. Opening on melodic piano, the disco chorus makes for an easy listen. It’s not Key’s most memorable song, but certainly not the worst.
While Key hasn’t written all the songs on the album, it’s the ones carrying his personal touches – ‘G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time)’, ‘Gasoline,’ ‘Proud,’ and ‘I Can’t Sleep’ – that shine. Despite the ostentatious title, ‘G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time)’ carries a disarming vulnerability as Key dives into the fears of dealing with adulthood. It opens on an alluring bell and synth melody, which gets distorted by bass and beat drops as his musings get progressively unguarded. And ‘I Can’t Sleep’ offers poignant and relatable lyrics: “The working world, it’s only slow for me / Sleeping pills with well-heated tea, I can’t get away with it, ’cause I can’t sleep.”
Through ‘Bad Love’ and now ‘Gasoline’, Key makes clear that he’s loving every minute of being Kim Ki-bum in his music and ready for fans to join him in this heady experience. On the groovy, fast-paced ‘Another Life’, he takes listeners on a ride – think riding pillion through a tunnel as the sky turns pink and the skyline of a futuristic city fades into the background. There’s no room to breathe on this synth-heavy electro-pop tune, and while you may not know where Key may take you next, for now all you can do is close your eyes and enjoy the thrill of the moment.
- Release date: August 30
- Record label: SM Entertainment