Minutes into Jimin’s debut solo album ‘FACE’, the sound of music rewinding cuts across the speakers before it’s interrupted by a loud, firm knock on a door. As if answering that, a sparkling instrumental drifts over ‘Interlude: Dive’, interlaced with recordings of the singer’s opening comments from BTS’ Busan 2022 concert and the sounds of the minutiae of everyday life – a glass filling with liquid that’s glugged back seconds later; the distant ripple of chatter. Midway through, ominous strings cut in, bringing tension and an undercurrent of darkness to the atmospheric sound collage.
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The track might be billed as only an interlude, but it’s indicative of the push and pull between light and dark that takes place on ‘FACE’. The record began life in early 2022 and finds the BTS star examining his experiences during the pandemic and diving into who he really is, confronting his true feelings rather than papering over them with a joyful facade. It, as one meaning of its name suggests, is a facing up to reality and captures the complex rollercoaster of emotions that comes with that.
That battle between opposing forces takes centre stage on ‘Like Crazy’, a crisp synth-pop song inspired by the movie of the same name, starring Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence. “I think we could last forever,” a female voice whispers optimistically in a sampled piece of dialogue at the song’s start, before a male voice replies in similarly hushed – but far less positive – tones: “I’m afraid that everything will disappear.”
Lyrically, the metallic track tells a story of heartbreak and trying to cling onto something that’s falling apart. “As the loud music plays / I’m fading away,” Jimin sings. “A cliché story like a drama / I’m getting used to it / Did I come too far to find the me you used to know?” Between the gloomy outlook, though, comes escapism tinged with hope – a yearning to not have to face the painful reality morning will bring. “I’d rather be / Lost in the lights / Lost in the lights,” he cries. “I’m outta my mind / Please hold onto the end of this night.”
While the Korean version of ‘Like Crazy’ deals more with a struggle to keep something alive – be that a relationship or a certain incarnation of Jimin’s being – the English version that closes the album sets its sights on the burden of fame. “I can hear the voices listening / Don’t know who they are,” he sings at one point on the latter. “Trying to take the pressure off / Been reaching for the stars / Tell me will I find myself again / When I go too far?”
‘Set Me Free Pt.2’ – an instantly divisive track that would fit neatly into the dramatic symphonies of Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ – tries to fight its way out of the hurt. “Look at me now / I won’t hide anymore even if it hurts,” Jimin declares. “Going insane to stay sane / Raise your hands for the past me.” It’s an assertion that finds him refusing to be defeated by the haters and hard times life throws at us.
‘Face-off’ and ‘Alone’ – the two highlights of ‘FACE’ – tumble into the shade, but both take different approaches. The former is practically nihilistic, Jimin spitting, “Tonight I don’t wanna be sober / Pour it up, it’s all fucking over.” The latter, meanwhile, treads a more despondent path, bemoaning a monotonous life where he’s “pretending to be OK every time / I’m so pathetic”.
Jimin has spoken about wanting to challenge himself on this record and show something darker and more raw. Sonically, he’s done just that here, using a range of sounds and styles across the five tracks that both add new strings to his bow as an artist and craft an inky and compelling atmosphere. Some of these new adventures into the shadows work better than others, though.
‘Set Me Free Pt.2’ is the most abrasive and in-your-face track on the record, the singer’s forays into rapping processed through thick layers of auto-tune that go beyond stylistic and symbolic and become grating. By the time the song hits its second verse, that effect gets ratcheted up to an uncomfortable level.
If that song is somewhat of a misfire, then the rest of ‘FACE’ fares much better. ‘Alone’ is a triumph, its melancholy, murky guitar lines and Jimin’s quietened vocals taking you into the heart of the loneliness the song portrays, whether you understand his words or not. ‘Face-off’ brings just the right level of intrigue, while the breathy, bubbling delivery of ‘Like Crazy’ provides some lightness, even if it still feels like grey clouds are hovering over it.
‘FACE’ might not be flawless but even in its missteps it reflects the turbulence of modern life – and especially of the last few years. If Jimin’s mission on this record was to stretch himself creatively and distil that dissonance in these songs, it’s one he’s accomplished.
- Release date: March 24, 2023
- Record label: Big Hit Music