Remember by S.E.S. (SM Entertainment/KT Music, 2017)
With nostalgia in pop reaching the late ’90s, the return of S.E.S. feels appropriate. The Korean pop trio of Sea, Eugene and Shoo celebrates the 20th anniversary of its debut this year, first appearing with I’m Your Girl in 1997. By Love, their peak success of album from 1999, they rode the coattails of the decade’s trend in R&B; “Twilight Zone” from the album echoes the mellow jams of, say, Mariah Carey from a few years prior. And the three brought the era back with a throwback to New Jack Swing in the single “Paradise” last December.
“Paradise,” though, is a little more than a simple copy of their prime decade. The stocky yet slinky percussion nods heavily to the source, and the keys glow like the yesteryear, but the liveliness of it all whites out any vintage fade. It’s instead a rightful 2017 take on the ’90s: a revamp of the sounds of yesterday with the savvy of today. Their reunion album, Remember, shares that feeling as a whole as it posits S.E.S. as not just veterans of K-pop but still competent to fit with the pop climate of the present.
Other parts of Remember stick to nostalgia at its core. The balmy synth whine, the pillowy bed of keys, and especially that girl-group chorus stamp “Love [story]” as a piece of the times. “Birthday” bring in a sticky bass line as well as retro-house pianos to live up a party. Yet present-day production quirks slip in between the cracks. The former’s percussion briefly crinkles as if the flashback wrinkles with the fabrics of the present for a second. The latter’s filtered intro flirts with the dance-pop of today, swaying in the warmth of the tropics.
No major-label player of pop isn’t free from balladry, so Remember isn’t without a few. But their context of a throwback puts an advantage to fit the ballads as less of an obligation, the booming EDM drums notwithstanding. And for this reunion album, especially for a record trying to playing with today’s stars, it suggests an interesting point that some things in pop hasn’t changed. The title track could’ve been released any time during the group’s 20-year career. The title also adds a wink with a call to reminisce on not just a love that got away but also a certain decade in pop as well as S.E.S. themselves. This added layer can only come with time, the very quality S.E.S. has above everyone else.