Fin.K.L. – Fable in the Drawer

(The song finishes at 4:04)

While it’s usually difficult to subject bubblegum pop songs from manufactured idol groups to serious artistic consideration, sometimes certain songs are good enough that it becomes hard to resist repeat listens and eventually a revision of critical opinion. While Take That were often derided during their original incarnation for variety of reasons, ‘Back for Good‘ and ‘Never Forget‘ were rather good songs to begin with, and have evidently survived a period of ironic, affected enjoyment to garner genuine appreciation.

Fin.K.L. are probably best known musically (not that that means much) for ‘Pride‘, and to a lesser extent ‘To My Boyfriend‘, and they’re fairly typical of the Korean girl pop of the Nineties in their aesthetic and sonic appeal (which is to say, heavily invested in the former and inconsequential for the latter). However, they have done a number of songs which deserve more credit than was probably given at the time:  the opening track of their debut album, ‘Blue Rain‘, for example, is a surprisingly mellow and tightly formed piece that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The song that has really stayed with me is ‘Fable in the Drawer’, the fourth track in Fin.K.L.’s second album. It doesn’t start auspiciously: the sound of waves hitting the shore has been and will continue to be used by the meanest of artists. It soon settles, though, and what quickly becomes apparent is that the melody both in verse and in chorus is consistently excellent and carries with it a surprising amount of longing and emotion. The transition is uncommonly smooth for an idol group’s pop tune and is tightly held together with logical and complementary chord changes. You can actually imagine making this song sound really good with an acoustic guitar, which is testament to its good composition. What really makes this song stick in my mind, though, is the siren refrain which plays over the song: it provides the hook that makes the song sound a lot more evocative than would have been otherwise. Also, this is one of the very few Fin.K.L. songs that actually sounds better when Ok Ju-hyeon isn’t singing, because the usually simple, nay, rudimentary vocals of Lee Jin and Sung Yu-ri somehow make the song sound even more plaintive.

‘Fable in the Drawer’ is a surprising gem, a diamond in the rough not just for Fin.K.L.’s otherwise unremarkable oeuvre but for Korean pop in general. I don’t think anyone knows about the song now, especially since Fin.K.L. debuted 13 years (!) ago, hit their peak in 1999 and basically stopped mattering a couple of years later; all their members are over thirty, doing other things – Lee Hyori is now so far removed from the pixie image of yesterday that today’s teens probably couldn’t pick her out even if they had a Fin.K.L. album cover stuck to their face; with Ok Ju-hyeon’s staggering voice powering appearances on serious music programs and musical stages, you would never guess that she was a member either; while Sung Yu-ri has blossomed into such a beautiful woman that her dramas repeatedly bombing can’t stop her securing fat cosmetics advertisement contracts. They were active idols in much less controlled and more prosaic era, when girl groups were allowed to fuel boys’ innocent fantasies with less-than-perfect vocals, didn’t have set roles assigned to each member, and didn’t have to demonstrate complex choreographies and gyrate to thumping bass beats (SNSD showed a glimpse of the old days with ‘Kissing You’, but, alas, it couldn’t last). The barrier that separated these stars from ordinary fans came crumbling down with the internet, the ubiquity of cable TV and now the social media, and Fin.K.L. were really the last of their kind.

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