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K-Pop Classic Albums: How Kim Soo Chul's 'The Flower That Could Not Blossom' Saved His Career [AUDIO]

By Jeff Tobias | April 04, 2014 12:58 PM EDT


Kim Soo Chul was magnetically drawn to music, and his commitment was immediate from a young age.

As a young man in the 1970s, he was deadly serious about his musical self-education. He engaged in marathon ten-hour practice sessions, devised his own wireless guitar setup, and formed bands like Little Big Man and Fire Fox that would serve as vehicles for his hard rock electric guitar solos.

But even while he was hyper-driven, he had to temper his energies.

He put paper under his guitar strings while practicing so as to not disturb his father. He shelved hard rock aspirations in favor of disco's taut shuffle. His bands would practice in friends' apartments until they were no longer welcome and had to move on.

All of these trials must be understood in the context of the performer's place in culture; entertainers are always needed, but rarely valued.

In the words of his official biography, "the conservative nature of Korean society combined to pull Kim in separate directions."

But it's worth noting that this is phenomenon is hardly limited to Korean society. Wherever you are, it's hard to be a musician and fully earn satisfaction and security.

In 1983, Kim was prepared to hang it all up and follow his father's advice of enrolling in business school.

He resolved that he would release his first solo album, bearing the title "The Flower That Could Not Blossom," and call it quits.

Kim apparently wasn't expecting the album's immediate and tremendous success.

The commercial appeal of "The Flower That Could Not Blossom," is likely due to tightly wound, funk-tinged pop songs like "Again Love The Inside." Ironically, it's possible that the success of the music could be due in part to his presumed retirement.

We'll explore that idea more in a minute. But first, let's talk about the song.

Much of the music Kim made around this time had a similar sound, call it disco once removed.

It's not dissimilar to Paul McCartney dabbling in lightweight funk-pop on the post-Beatles solo album "McCartney II." On the album's lead-off single "Coming Up," Macca sounds like he checked out some Talking Heads and thought highly of it. Highly enough to rip it off wholesale, at least.

The upbeat electric funk on "The Flower That Could Not Blossom," is a jarring juxtaposition to Kim's moody album cover with a solitary, shadowy figure who seems resigned to a black and white future without music.

The song "Again Love The Inside" is simultaneously joyful and carefully arranged.

It really shines in the context of knowing that Kim thought this would be his swan song. It's the sound of a born musician trying to wedge a lifetime's worth of euphoria into a four-minute track.

Kim's electric guitar and lead vocals share a quality of tempered aggression, pushing towards a ragged edge without ever coming close to offending anyone. Over the chicken-scratch rhythm guitars and staccato clavinet keyboards, Kim throws in a few ad-lib vocal grunts, and generally sounds like he's having the time of his life.

In the song's final moments, he throws out the established guitar melody and shows us what ten hours a day of practice was worth. A lot, actually!

Kim would continue to release well-received solo albums of pop-rock; he also began scoring music for films.

Soundtracks would prove to be his bread and butter, and he began studying traditional Korean music at the academic level. Today, he owns nearly two million dollars' worth of traditional Korean instruments.

Kim Soo Chul is an example of what happens with a passion is nearly abbreviated. Who knows what kind of a businessman he would have made. But thankfully we know very well what his life spent in music has sounded like.

Check out Kim Soo Chul's "Again Love the Inside."

Jeff Tobias is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, he has been researching the history of tuning systems and working on his jump shot.

Tagged :  kim soo chul, the flower that could not blossom


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