Likes: Love Is Bitter, Holiday, Sweet Talk
Dislikes: Only One
Overall: A decent, cohesive album that lacks innovation or creativity
South-Korean pop (AKA K-pop) octet Girls' Generation (commonly abbreviated as SNSD, after the Korean translation of their name) returns with their 6th full length album Holiday Night, which acts as a celebratory hallmark of their career longevity of 10 years. They're the last of K-pop's "second-generation" girl-groups, who formed between roughly 2003-2009. Holiday is appropriately commemorative with production and engineering that's larger than life and sounds like a party. However, unlike the bulk of their discography, there is nothing unique or innovative about this body of work.
The opening tracks seem reminiscent of late 1990s Euro-pop, soaked in retro funk grooves and catchy, bubblegum-pop sung melodies (ex. "Girls Are Back"). Although some of the production tricks are up-to-date, they're still somewhat dated; such as the dub-step break before the bridge in "All Night." Though the record is an easy and enjoyable listen, nothing sticks with you like it normally would. Lead singles "All Night" and "Holiday" are decent K-pop cuts, but they seem more sonically suited for the now-disbanded Sistar. The songs lack a certain "umph" that the grandiose production just couldn't compensate for. Another good example of this is "FAN," which is humongous in sound, yet still leaves something to be desired by the end of it.
Shortcomings notwithstanding, the album plays well as cohesive. The highlights are easily "Love Is Bitter" and "Sweet Talk," which was penned by the youngest member, Seohyun. "Sweet Talk" is a gritty, urban pop track, laden with brass instruments and plenty of percussive claps and knocks. It's reminiscent of upbeat tracks from Beyoncé's B'Day, with dashes of 5th Harmony and Ariana Grande in the melodic structures. The lyrics urging a man to step up and tell his woman how he feels about her aren't anything to write home about, but the melody is infectious. Also, the vocal delivery from each member is exceptional, and the harmonies are heavily and effectively stacked. "Love Is Bitter" is a pure jazz, mid-tempo track that sounds like an instant classic ready to be covered for many years to come. It talks about the inevitable disappointment of love and the irony of people still wanting to pursue it: "Sweet taste can never stay for a long time, like how a summer downpour washes away the hot air...because my love is always bitter...when the tears that fall on my cheek have dried, the taste permeates my heart, even if it's with you, the end is the same (English translation)."
Further on vocals, every member is significantly stronger throughout this project, compared to 2015's Lionheart era. Sunny's voice sounds much fuller in tone and more confident. Hyoyeon (usually regarded as the weakest singer) has improved her tone tremendously and she provides a great deal of the background vocals when she isn't delivering her signature rap. Sooyoung was able to show more versatility, such as belting the second chorus in "Love Is Bitter." Yuri and Yoona are consistent in tonality and control. The vocal line (Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun) take on the majority of the money notes, the most notable being Seohyun's head voice (i.e. during Hyoyeon's raps and after the bridge in "Holiday"). They also dominate in the verses and adlibs. As a Sone (the name for SNSD fans), it's disappointing there hasn't been another song to match the equity of "Catch Me If You Can," where each member had a clear moment to shine. Sones are well aware that Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun are the strongest vocalists. They perform and record as a sub-unit called TTS/TaeTiSeo. Additionally, all 3 ladies have released solo projects. With all of that, one would think there would be a concerted effort to afford the remaining 5 members more vocal opportunities. By estimation, more than 60% of each song consists of TTS, leaving 40% to be divided amongst the others.