[HOT TRACK]The emperor defends his turf

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[HOT TRACK]The emperor defends his turf

If you're already recognized as "The Emperor of the Ballad," what do you do next? Do you wall yourself off and protect your domain or strike out to conquer new territory?

Shin Seung-hoon is Korea's definitive balladeer. Since his 1990 debut, Shin, now 34, has distinguished himself as a writer, producer and performer of heartrending songs that befit his gentle voice. His voice has been compared to Ronan Keating's and his reputation to Michael Bolton's.

Critics point out that Shin made a name for himself when Korea's music industry wasn't far past its embryonic stage. But they respect the path he took. After being shunned by music companies, which often exploit their artists anyway, Shin essentially recorded and produced his albums himself. The seven he has released to date have sold more than 1.1 million copies in Korea.

But as the the local pop music scene matured and dance music began to take off, Shin's star began to dim. At the end of the '90s he decided to try out different styles. The experiment fell flat, though, as his 2000 album was judged by fans and critics as disappointing.

Shin dropped out of the spotlight for a while, but came back with a hit last year in "I Believe," part of the sound track of the movie "My Eccentric Girlfriend." Now Shin is back with his eighth album, ambitiously titled "The Shin Seung-hun."

The 13-track disk, released Monday, still has varying styles, including rhythmic dance tracks. Again, Shin had control over the recording and production. "I wanted the music to sound artistic but still appeal to the public," Shin told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition recently. "Though I do pursue pop, I don't want to be remembered for having had an overly pop style."

There are a few gems on the new album, along with a few dogs. The main track, "If You Can Say Goodbye Though We're in Love," is typical Shin. Orchestrated string instruments provide a smooth intro for the melodious ballad and Shin's plaintive vocals. His artistic bent is evident on the third track, which features a funky beat that owes a nod to Jamiroquai. On the seventh and most delightful cut, Shin deftly effects an upbeat, jazzy style. But listeners will feel prompted to skip Shin's stabs at techno and house on the sixth and ninth tracks.

Overall, the album is saved by Shin's forte, the ballads. Shin was confident that he could succeed at a vast variety of styles. But sometimes emperors are better off sticking to their dominion.

by Chun Su-jin

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