Let me just say this. Though this isn't exactly the album I expected (or wanted, to be honest) from the only member I actively remember in EXO, damn if there aren't some vocal moments on D.O.'s debut solo EP that didn't give me chills.
D.O.'s voice is built for soul-laden R&B. However, acoustic might be the smartest way for him to go at first. If for noting else, stripped of a lot of compositional affectation, D.O.'s voice stands out. Crystal clear and soul-reaching. Track "It's Love" ripped a few unexpected exclamations from me as I casually allowed the music to play in the background of a busy work day. The range he put on display, the control... Yea, this kid is a vocal technician. He knows where to place the melisma and how complex to make each journey his voice goes on. Playing with his lower register toward song's end only to climb back up o his full-bodied falsetto. It's an absolutely mesmerizing track. A master class of control and technique.
That same vocal majesty slides effortlessly throughout Empathy. And, hello, English version of "Rose"! I was not expecting that one. Certainly wasn't expecting it to be almost better than the Korean version. But the Spanish version of "It's Love" (renamed "Si Fueras Mía") is what really knocked me flat on my ass! At the song's second pre-chorus I ripped my headphones off my head, flung them away and just started laughing. This young man's vocal control is just...frightening. The way he slid himself into that melisma was so smooth I almost cussed out my phone for even playing that shit back to me. There's an unmistakable balance to his tone that lends itself to his ability create atmosphere on the merits of his voice alone. His awareness of every note allows him to lean into complex melismatic constructions without overextending the lyric or getting lost in the vocal "run" on his way to finding a place for it to land. An absolute vocal master without overemphasizing the point. His technique is almost subtle...almost. It's hard to ignore the way he wraps that tenor around a measure so effortlessly.
Ladies and gentlemen, he has the range!
So while I might have initially wanted something with more overt soul, I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised with just how magical the pared-down pop constructions and more traditionally acoustic/"singer-songwriter" aesthetic works in favor of the explosiveness of his voice. I suppose it wouldn't have done to have the two vocals (Baekyun and D.O.) in the same group (EXO) release the same type of album. Spread the musical range out a bit more and get a wider audience flocking to them, and thus the group. (I see you, SM. You ain't slick!) Regardless of if that was the intention, it works so heavily in D.O.'s favor I'm wont to believe that his debut EP is more effective than Baekhyun's third.
NOTE: As Frank Ocean said, "The best song wasn't the single." However, I will not subject you to "It's You." Nobody deserves that kind of violence, in Korean or Spanish. Tread that path if you dare. But I want no parts in your despair.