[ALBUM REVIEW] Li Ronghao — An Ideal

After Li Ronghao‘s meteoric rise in the C-music industry for his self-titled second album, “Li Ronghao”, he is finally back with The 3rd New Album, “An Ideal”. Ideally, this album would further solidify his status as an A-lister. But that, after all, is just an ideal.

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Known for its distinct style and arrangement– the prominent bass coupled with a sprinkle of R&B — Li Ronghao’s songs have taken up a familiar pattern within most listeners’ expectations. Yet his latest album somewhat attempts a change in direction — and perhaps not for the best.

1 Wild animals
If anything, Huang Zhongping’s music videos allow for some amazing track list backgrounds.

The second the track starts, it’s apparent that the opening track “Wild Animals” is not to be taken lightly. The incongruent, almost jarring chords silently captivate listeners as Li Ronghao’s croons in his soft yet textured lower register:

The lustful, malevolent city, its proudly standing cold structures

 

You resemble a bat that sweeps across this arc

Combined with Wyman Wong‘s eerily written yet eccentric lyrics, Li Ronghao’s song, production, and notably darker arrangement lures in our animalistic natures as a proud predator would its prey. Fittingly, the song explores our own animalistic natures — and how they clash with human pride.

The prideful tiger; the passionate caribou

 

The cold-blooded hunter displays his specimens to the bulk

 

Why must we taint the innocent

 

Just for a few inches of lukewarm skin

Though Ronghao’s perspective is seemingly omniscient and lucid, the lyrics explore concepts that even the most all-powerful must question. It’s frank, genuine, and very true — and the best lyrics “An Ideal” has to offer.

Under the direction of renown MV director Bill Chia x BOUNCE, the eerily dark music video presents a grim outlook and representation of humans as compared to the wild. Taking inspiration from the lyrics, Li Ronghao, an accomplished, wealthy hunter hears the call of the wild and leaves human civilization as we know it. As Ronghao belts out the fiery chorus, he literally sets his home aflame as the wild animal within him overcomes his domestication.

It’s a compelling listen — unique, yet reflective of our everyday experience.


One’s life won’t necessarily be a full house

 

Gotten used to the ons and offs

Compared to the solemn darkness of “Wild Animals”, “Full House” takes a far more light-hearted and nostalgic route. “Full House”, which I imagine is a much more familiar listen for fans of Li Ronghao, sounds plain at first but eventually grows on the listener. A lot. You know, like how you fell in love with all his other songs.

Though an amazing listen, “Full House” sounds much more like a song from 2014’s self-titled “Li Ronghao”, making it seem a bit out of place from this album. It’s your signature Li Ronghao track — simultaneously serious and lighthearted. (If you like this one, you’ll definitely love his previous works.)

The music video presented is a rather eccentric one — Li Ronghao, who lives alone in an apartment complex, observes the various relationships of his beautiful next-door neighbor. All seem to follow the pattern of normalcy until he joins a late-night party. . .

It’s worth the time, even if it takes a few listens to appreciate. Because as Li Ronghao pens and sings:

Even lovers, friends, relatives, you, and me are included


Ah, the titular track — “An Ideal”. “An Ideal”, for lack of a better description, is the most “idealized” song off the album. It’s incredibly polished — the delivery at the beginning too perfect to be true, the beat perfectly in sync, the guitar chords never demanding attention, and the melody itself consistently upbeat. Only does Li Ronghao’s own textured voice bring rawness to the table, and even then is his usual voice subdued.

Directed by the ever-prolific Huang Zhongping, “An Ideal”‘s music video lets us explore the lives of various people alongside the omnipresent Li Ronghao, who occasionally strolls around and strums the guitar all dapper-like. Yet at the end of it all, it’s those people who have been judging Li Ronghao all along. Perhaps it’s because he’s too ideal?

Despite the strange “plot” (or lack thereof), “An Ideal” is seriously a visual and audio treat.

Screenshot (21)Screenshot (22)Screenshot (23)

Screenshot (24)
At some point you just stop worrying about media taking too much storage space.
Screenshot (25)
Spot color is my love.

The MV is so nice, and I really wanted to display each image in its full glory. ❤ (Would you guys prefer a slideshow or each individual image?)


In jarring contrast to the cheery and upbeat “An Ideal”, “Papa & Mama” is one of those incredibly tear-jerking and “sob-by” songs. “Papa & Mama” reflects of how a child finally learns of his parents’ unconditional love once grown-up and in the real world.

Li Ronghao himself deviates from his usual style, singing the ballad much more softly and tenderly. Although the arrangement primarily consists of light bass, it brings focus to the vocals and emotion of the song as effectively as any piano-based ballad.

As if the track itself wasn’t sad enough (HINT: it was), Warner Music decided to let Li Ronghao film a tear-inducing 8-minute MV. Because if a song is already tinged with melancholy, let’s make the music video downright depressing, am I right?

It’s an amazing track, really, but I feel like it just feels like too much of a downer after the incredibly upbeat “An Ideal”. BRB, guys. moon148’s in dire need of some comfort music right now.


I’ve heard that “sorry” also counts as promise

 

It doesn’t matter if we can be together or not

“Popular Songs”, a light, upbeat song reflecting on teenage (young) love, is a nice tune to hum to, although a bit of an emotional roller coaster after the super melancholy “Papa & Mama”. It’s tinged in nostalgia, and while the lyrics hint at some unsolved differences, generally gets one a pleasant mood.

 Everyone has those few lines

 

Of popular songs


Though with its own merits, “Merit” is ultimately where “An Ideal” becomes not as ideal as it would like to be.

On one hand, I absolutely love how Li Ronghao very daringly experiments with interesting chord arrangements, and how he uses hints of minor for a tinge of sadness within the song. However, the message of the song itself is but weirdly disconnected — it’s simultaneously hopeful and melancholy.

In the overall scheme of this album, the first few tracks that start off the album are idealized representations of our world, but Li Ronghao gradually gets down-to-earth in the normalized everyday life of us human beings. And unfortunately, most of us prefer hearing the idealized concepts — since that is part of the purpose of listening to music, isn’t it?


Random theme song interlude — though I suppose fans aren’t happy when they’re just stuck at the end of the album. At least there isn’t some stupid “separate CD” I end up never touching. (*coughs*)

To be fair, Li Ronghao’s 《不将就》, “Stubborn Love”, or “Can’t Bear It” (HINT: it more accurately translates to “Won’t Put Up With”) is a really nice song. Though rather plain when I first heard it last summer (last year!!!) as the theme song to the movie “You Are My Sunshine” (which was a horrible movie — you should read the original novel though), it actually ends up being the catchiest song of the entire album.

That being said, 《不将就》isn’t necessarily the best out of this album; it’s just the most mainstream and marketable track. No wonder 2014’s “Li Ronghao” was so popular.


“In My Heart”, a nostalgia-filled jazzy number, fits perfectly into the scheme of “An Ideal”. Tinged in melancholy, it is simultaneously soothing, refreshing, and yet emotional, perfectly describing the state of a relationship after the initial passion has died down.

Though it doesn’t particularly stand out, I’m sure “In My Heart” will have a special place in all of our hearts. And the MV is just beautiful. ❤


When presented with a song by a male singer called “Girls”, the first thing I imagine is Weibird William Wei‘s 《女孩》— that cheery, upbeat single with the super weird MV.

Interestingly, Li Ronghao’s take is pretty much the polar opposite. With more than just a twinge of blues and sadness, Li Ronghao doesn’t sing about dating girls. Instead, he almost tries to get into the girls’ perspective, which, coming from an actual girl’s perspective, is super weird.

Weirdly enough, “Girls” blurs the boundary between “interesting” and “boring”. While I love Li Ronghao’s husky lower register paired with a melancholy minor melody, “Girls” just reeks of . . . normalcy. It’s sort of like the background score to an average (and perhaps slightly saddening) day of an average person’s life.


What could be more out of place than . . . a commercial song! Released in 2015, “Turnaround” is the theme song for some CLINIQUE Turnaround Series.

The deal with commercial songs is that rarely are they ever good. Since the whole point of said songs are usually just purely for profit, singers rarely ever put much effort into them. On the other side, fans usually consider them either something they will ignore or something they will make fun of.

I’m going to go out on a limb and mention William Wei again. As a singer who does a ton of theme songs and commercial songs (including one for Office 365, because why not?), he usually does them while having a lot of fun at the same time, generally simultaneously acting all cute and WTF. And, sure, there’s not much value for the actual songs themselves. But at least it’s super fun and interesting to watch.

ronghao-li-3

The beat and melody of “Turnaround” is actually super catchy — almost like a hybrid of the titular track “An Ideal” or something. It’s super lighthearted, but then the same lyrics just repeat over and over again, conveying that one message: these lyrics sound didactic and all but actually don’t make much sense. But hey this is a super catchy commercial song. Turnaround is super awesome! It’s really awesome! Ok, bye~

Li Ronghao himself sounds rather, well, bored in his delivery. I don’t blame him.


The album concludes with the rather mellow track “The Big Sun”, giving off a sort of sitting on the porch on a sunny afternoon kind of feeling. It’s super soothing, sort of like 2014’s “20s 30s”, but unfortunately just as plain and meh. Why conclude with this track? *shrugs*

It’s a really nice MV though~


Overall Thoughts

I’ll confess this: it took me quite a while to get to listen to every track off the album. But as I gradually got into it, I think it ended up being pretty good. Though listeners more used to more mainstream-sounding C-pop may be disappointed, especially after 2014’s dynamic “Li Ronghao”, I found this a fairly ideal step in Li Ronghao’s music career.

One this that confused me was the overall structure of the album; it’s sort of a mixed bag, though most of the songs were quite nice.

The album starts off with some more dramatic, idealized tracks — a sort of veneer as any ideal has. But as listeners embark on what is initially an emotional roller coaster, Ronghao decides to plateau at slightly subdued melancholy as he evokes the normalcy of everyday life. It’s slightly boring at first, but tinged in sadness and familiarity, and slowly but surely will grow on you. Throw in some randomly placed theme songs, and that’s the album?

So what’s the overall message: that all ideals are but glorified normalcy?

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Whatever the message may be, we all know one thing: that Li Ronghao is too adorable.

In the end of it all, I was neither disappointed nor thoroughly impressed. Songs were downloaded and added to playlists. Music videos were watched.

Recommended tracks: Wild Animals, An Ideal, Papa & Mama, Popular Songs, In My Heart

Overall Rating: 7.8/10

— moon148

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