On Oct. 30, 2023, SHINee’s Taemin revealed his highly-anticipated 4th mini-album, “Guilty,” after being discharged from the South Korean army on April 4. This marks his return to the spotlight as a soloist following nearly two years of military service. “Guilty” is Taemin’s latest solo work, following his group’s comeback in SHINee’s eighth studio album, “Hard.” Fans who eagerly awaited his return since the announcement on Oct. 10, 2023, have found the wait to be incredibly rewarding. Taemin is now a more mature artist following his hiatus and continues to push his creative boundaries while maintaining the high-quality artistry that has always defined his work, even before his military service.

In a recent interview, Taemin shared that the emotion of guilt is his current fascination, delving into the deeper facets of the human experience — an emotion that engulfs you when you’ve done something wrong or immoral. His record label, SM Entertainment, described Taemin’s prolific return as a soloist as artistically charming and irreplaceable, presenting a collection of six songs encompassing various vibes. The album features tracks such as ‘Guilty” (the album’s namesake), “The Rizzness,” “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not,” “Not Over You,” “Night Away” and “Blue,” all contributing to the enrichment of Taemin’s distinctive musical style.

Expanding on the significance of the single “Guilty,” Taemin explained that the song is about selfish love that inadvertently inflicts pain on the other person. He aimed to define love through a theatrical performance in the music video for the song, highlighting the different forms of affection and the inevitable sacrifice that is intrinsic to intimacy. He emphasized that love involves sacrifice and shares insights from his own experiences, stating, “There are a lot of things I gain from being a singer, but, at the same time, there are lots of things I have to give up, and these are the ones I emphasized in this single.”

The album commences with an astonishing opening track, gradually transitioning into a more serene exploration of themes such as passion, pain, acceptance and peace. Taemin’s musical journey in “Guilty” reflects his growth and maturity as an artist.

Hypnotizing all our senses, Taemin maintains a strong grip on our attention with his title track, “Guilty.” This track features a grand mix of a 30-member string section and dynamic synth sound, layered with a unique laid-back beat and an addictive hook, as mentioned by SM Entertainment. It carries signature Taemin elements, such as charming lyricism portrayed in a dramatic and cinematic manner. From the very first verse, he entices us with lyrics like, “Poison apple / Spellbound, you wanna take a bite?” setting the seductive tone of the song. Throughout most of the song, he sings in a slow, breathy, sensual and sultry style that suits him best. “Guilty” is far from stagnant; upon the first listen, you’ll experience the excitement of dynamic synths, heavenly high notes, unsettling yet dreamy deep whisper vocals and fitting rap lines that all come together to create a perfect song.

Following this masterpiece is the next track, “The Rizzness.” This song is inspired by the Gen Z term “Rizz,” a newer term for charisma. The song’s appeal is somewhat hit or miss, mainly depending on whether you can get past the playful use of this slang term. In a way, it’s very fitting for Taemin to embrace and reference this trendy word, showcasing his unique artistry and fearlessness in taking new risks. Despite the track’s lighthearted name, Taemin didn’t hold back and left fans stunned with his performance. This song brings hip-hop vibes to the forefront with a well-produced 808 bass kick and synth bass complementing the lyricism and powerful rapping. The musical spectrum of production on this track ranges from a lively thriller to an eerie horror film, complete with electric guitar tremolos.

In contrast, the remaining four tracks take on a more subdued pop-style approach. “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” aims to evoke memories of the petal-picking ritual used to determine someone’s romantic interest. Unfortunately, with the ending lyric of the intro being “She loves me not,” the rest of the song carries a desolate mood reminiscent of the early stages of a breakup, a time suffused with the ache of longing. According to Taemin, this song exudes kitschy teen vibes, encouraging a sing-along with its chanty chorus that taps into more complex emotions.

Continuing along the post-breakup theme, “Not Over You” invites listeners to sing along with its dreamy vocals and laid-back R&B melody, encapsulating the emotions associated with moving on.

Shifting away from breakup sentiments, “Night Away” fosters a romantic mood by exploring moments spent with a lover. Taemin’s vocal prowess, consistently eliciting emotional responses from fans, complements the lyrics and enhances the romantic essence of the song.

His last track, “Blue,” offers a hopeful farewell, resembling a lyrical indie band song that serves as a comforting refuge within the album. It’s the kind of song that might become a go-to solace for listeners.

Verdict: This album reaffirms why Taemin, often referred to as the “Idol of Idols,” has sustained an unwavering career spanning 15 years. The production of this album is so well done that it is far from being a “Guilty” pleasure.