A Review of EXO’s 5th Album, "Don’t Mess Up My Tempo"

If you know anything about Korean music, you know how powerful the group EXO is. They’re regarded as Korea’s national boy group; they continue to set and break their own records, and earlier this year, even performed at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

EXO debuted in 2012 with the song MAMA, and it was immediately deemed their company’s biggest mistake. But just a year later, with their single Growl, they were topping charts.

 

 

 

 

Since then, they’ve released a combination of full albums, mini albums, and winter albums.

EXO’s last full album comeback, The War, with title track Kokobop, was July of 2017.

The War

 

Their last discographic release was Universe, a winter special.

Universe

Their 5th full album is called Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, the title track being Tempo.

I’m going to review the album and rate each andante, moderato, or allegro, since the theme of this album is actually divided into three parts: andante for slow or mild, moderato for medium, and allegro for fast, heavy, or intense.

 

The title track, Tempo:

 

 

Tempo starts out with heavy instrumentals and Chen’s bright, clear vocals. He moves between head voice and falsetto. It transitions into a chorus. Tempo, specifically, moves from allegro into a moderato, andante, and then allegro pace once more. What’s unique about this track, is that after 2:45, EXO moves into an a cappella. They harmonize as one voice and allow first Suho, then Baekhyun, solo time. Baekhyun’s voice, especially, is sweet and clear, and he uses some falsetto, before they shift back into the allegretto pace they were performing in previously.

Rating: All

 

Sign:

 

 

Sign is the next track in the album, opening with a heavy, dark sound. The vocals in this are very interesting. There’s a distinct buzzing sound that goes on throughout the whole piece. In terms of vocals, I feel like this song brings out more of EXO’s deeper vocals in some areas, but the chorus is pitched high and ambitious. The song is upbeat, yet has a dark undertone, accentuated by the bitter lyrics: “My heart that was only for you turns into nothing but a pile of ash,” and “So you can’t bring me back/Threw all my memories of you, without a trace/and it’s all a sign that this is the end.”

Rating: Allegro

 

Ooh La La La:

 

 

Ooh La La La is Latin inspired, a fusion of beach vibes and EXO’s ambitious vocals. This song is more lighthearted — even swaying. The beat moves more slowly, allowing emphasis on each member’s parts. It dips into darker areas at 1:20 with Chanyeol, who despite his baritone, pulls off a surprisingly higher verse. There is something aching about it, and digging into the lyrics, I find that the song seems to actually be set in winter time, referencing snow. Otherwise, the lyrics show a dependency on rhythm and yearning. It seems like a song about a playful, not-yet-there relationship.

Rating: Moderato

 

Gravity:

 

 

Gravity sounds like a video game, almost like a continuation of EXO’s Power. It quiets down at 1:42 for moments before resuming its tempo. This song is upbeat and catchy, written by Chanyeol, one of the members, who goes into a rap at 2:30. He described writing the song for each member in the group, honing in on the essence of their personalities and his feelings towards them. The lyrics read with angst in some parts: “The ‘lie’ hidden in the word ‘believe’/ I didn’t see it, and now I still, I still/am tricking myself into thinking/it’s a lie that you lied to me,” but in other parts it sends a message of love: “If it’s for you, I have the strength for move anything/you know that.”

Rating: Allegro

 

With You:

 

 

With You was written by Chanyeol as well, and starts out with what sounds like the tuning of an instrument and hesitant electric keys. It becomes quick immediately, with Suho leading. Baekhyun speeds it up further. This song has a drumming beat, which clears up for what sounds like a harp and piano keys. Chanyeol and Sehun’s parts are easy. There is a harmonization at the end that closes the song off. The lyrics to this song are very affectionate: “If you look at those stars that are bright/It's just like looking at you/You resemble everything that shines.”

The song is playful and simple, colorful for the group’s different vocal strengths.

Rating: Andante

 

24/7:

 

  

 

24/7 starts out whistling. It’s a song that sounds like it’s on a mission, and yet all it does is yearn.The chorus is a light harmony, accentuated by a heavy beat. For the first time that I’ve heard, Sehun harmonizes with Chen, who balances his deeper tone with his airy one from 1:57 to 2:05, as if supporting him. This is important to Sehun, who doesn’t usually get enough lines in songs. In this album, though, he shines more. The song ends the way it started: in whistles.

Rating: Moderato

 

Bad Dream:

 

 

Bad Dream sounds almost lo-fi at the beginning, but then develops itself more heavily as it goes on. They sing more like they are trying to attack whoever is listening, their voices like daggers, but also aching. The song speaks to an ex-lover who they still feel encompassed by and hurt by. Sehun described it during a showcase as, “a good song to listen to when you’re lying in bed in the dark at night…[of a breakup] you didn’t know when you broke up, but like a sudden windy storm, it all comes back to you.”

Rating: Moderato

 

Damage:

 

 

 

Damage is the most allegro song on this album, and it even brings back Sehun’s iconic, “E-X-O”. This song knows what it’s doing; it’s versatile in its hip-hop style, but also in that it gives so much focus to the abilities of the group. This song is something you’d play at parties, something you’d use to keep yourself awake during all-nighters, or to make yourself feel invincible. It’s fresh, repetitive, and easy to keep up with. The vocals in this song are focused on the higher end, dominated by Baekhyun and Chen. The lyrics fall more on the angry side, speaking about lies and toxic love.  

Rating: Allegro

 

Smile On My Face:

 

 

 

My personal favorite, Smile On My Face, is the slowest on the album — albeit, not slow at all. The music, in my opinion, reflects exactly what the lyrics say — the lyrics are melancholy, describing the pain of having to let someone go while keeping a smile on one’s face. It’s like keeping a strong front. Fans have likened the departure to death, which isn’t outrageous, considering the lyrics reference burying something. The music, despite and in accordance to the lyrics, keeps an almost cheerful tempo. It’s more sweet than depressing. The connection here is gorgeous.

Rating: Andante

 

Oasis:

 

 

Oasis begins like the first page of a story, developing itself until the drums can come in. This song gives off the feeling of wanting to go somewhere new or fresh or different. The song was originally called “Runnin’,” and expresses the singers’ desires to “[find] an oasis…chasing the sun.” It ends with Baekhyun’s, “I’m on the run.” The song’s beats and message -- wanting to escape to a new place -- are similar to that of El Dorado, an EXO song from 2015. EXO’s vocals in their drawn out verses, reflect that.

Rating: Moderato

 

My favorite out of this album was Smile On My Face, as I mentioned, but after that I really can’t rank anything. This album was very versatile in that each song had a signature rhythm and style that really stood out, which is to be expected of EXO, who have shown themselves to be increasingly unique and nonconforming to typical music standards. Their last album, The War, was more intensely focused on instrumentals, and was some of the most unique music I’ve heard. However, I feel that allowing EXO to be more reliant on their vocal power is a gift in and of itself.

 

If you’re interested in following them, you can find their Instagram or Twitter at @weareoneEXO, which is where the teasers for this comeback were posted.

 

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