On April 15, 2018, three years after her intrepid foray into solo music, Amber Liu released a new body of work. “Rogue Rouge” is a bit of a self-revelation, an honest look at a young woman’s journey to self-acceptance and her pervasive need to be herself to the absolute fullest.
“Rogue Rouge” offers more musically than her solo debut. While 2015’s “Beautiful” was decent enough as far as debuts go, it was a shiny piece of fluff for the most part. An album that SM Entertainment found acceptable for a member of one of their most highly respected groups. “Rogue Rouge” raises the bar on Liu’s career and certainly reveals more about the woman as an artist than anything on its predecessor.
Get Over It
Where “Beautiful” was her first step as a solo artist, “Rogue Rouge” is Liu’s escape into her musicality. Everything is stripped down to an intimate level. There’s nothing inherently over-the-top about the sound, just pure and simple sound that manages to uplift the lyrical depth of each song. “Get Over It” is that tentative breath after holding it in anticipation. Once the music starts, one can feel the tension roll from Liu’s shoulders, so to speak, allowing her to dive in and give as much of herself as she can.
Though nothing extraordinary, Amber really does have a pretty voice. It’s simple and understated. She doesn’t try for more than she has in her, and that’s what makes it so endearing. That solid fact alone proves that Amber’s work has always been about her lyricism and her musical ear. That prettiness belies the gritty veritas with which she speaks about her past experiences, about being betrayed, about the proverbial wool being pulled over of her eyes.
Liu takes a turn for the sensual, though not in the way most people associate the sentiment. Hers is an emotional ache, a yearning to find someone who she can both identify with and protect. There are layers to her affection. On one hand, she entreats her significant other to trust her, allow her to take them away to a world that’s strictly their own. However, digging deeper one finds that Liu has a tendency to couple her outward capacity for empathy with an internal need to convince herself that everything will be okay. “Close Doors” allows her to express her desire to protect both herself and those around her. As she implores a friend (or lover or family member) that she can be a confidante, she’s also taking this moment for self-care, sequestering herself from the world and insisting “nobody has to know” the secrets she holds inside the closed doors of her soul.
The album reaches an emotional peak with “High Hopes,” an EDM track true to the genre’s name. Starting with bits of classic techno and morphing into a dubstep-laced trance jam, the track is perhaps the EP’s most ambitious and intriguing. Liu manages to marry music and lyric perfectly, painting the picture of a woman reaching for her dreams, racing against time and herself to achieve everything she desires. She first sighs, then nearly shouts, “Running so fast my lungs can’t hold” just as the song hits a significant signature transition, switching from the build-up of an elemental house construction to the jarring syncopation of ’90s trance. Just as the drums threaten to explode from the very fabric of the song’s digital mapping, we get the vacuum-warp of a dubstep crunch, Liu seems to throw herself into the air as she stretches her arms toward her prize, the sun, her ultimate destination.
The song fades into what its title suggests: a hope that once she lands on her feet she’ll be exactly where she wants to be.
Right Now (feat. Gen Neo)
It’s the sweeping narrative composition of “High Hopes” that makes the next song such a letdown. “Right Now” is a typical midtempo ballad, perhaps fitting in the scope of Liu’s repertoire but ultimately misplaced after the power behind the songs that preceded it. I’m not sure how well the tinkling soprano of Liu’s voice meshes with Gen Neo’s somewhat edgier delivery. But the two do manage enough chemistry to carry the song. The composition isn’t really impressive, a basic beat that smacks of a producer either just stepping into the role, or perhaps more scathingly a producer who just needed to get rid of something he didn’t know what to do with. The composition on the tracks surrounding “Right Now” swallow the song, making it forgettable in the grander scheme of the EP. That being said, it does its job as a catchy pop-R&B tune and serves as something of a buffer between the more emotionally weighty tracks.
The rest of “Rogue Rouge” only serves to further isolate “Right Now” as an oddly placed track in the grander scheme of the EP’s narrative. “Lifeline” goes back to the business of delving into Liu’s mental and emotional hurts and triumphs, picking at the scar tissue left from battles she fought with the world and within herself. The overwhelming sensation of the song, as with the album, is freedom. Songs like “Lifeline” and “Closed Doors” both explore this ideology using both abstract musicality and the concrete imagery. While there’s an airiness to each song, both in composition and Liu’s tonal quality, the music is anchored by the steady touch of a significant other.
It’s clear that Liu has given herself room both to play and the breathe without the claustrophobic feeling of being shoved into a category; however, her lyrics are solid, powerful. She has the strength to call out the nonsense flitting around her universe and to admit she needs love and protection.
Three Million Years
Again, Liu finds herself in a sensual space, and, yes, in much the way you’d expect. In this moment she finds herself in need of someone to hold, someone who loves her as she loves them. Simply a voice and an electric guitar, “Three Million Years” is the type of song that would make anyone swoon from just the suggestion of romance. Though not 100 percent sure of its placement, one can’t deny the earnestness of the lyrics, as she proclaims, “You’re so perfect. You’re the one I adore.” Deeper than that, though, there’s still this need to be told that everything’s okay, that she’s safe where she is — at this point int eh arms of her lover. IT’s a sweet song, perfect for the softness of her soprano timbre.
“Rogue Rouge” sees Amber Liu at her most honest, her most vulnerable. Barring any pre-knowledge fans may have concerning Liu and her relationship with her record label, her words evoke the kind of emotions that come from much tumult in one’s life. She’s never been afraid to be herself. Perhaps a bit hesitant — the lack of any female idol that looked anything like her surely must have made her weary to step out as she was, a skater girl from LA. But over the past few years, Liu has found a voice that booms louder than the flash and glitter of the idol industry. No longer afraid to speak her mind, as she may have been as a green-eyed rookie from LA looking for a chance to make music. Amber Liu is speaking her mind, damn anyone who’d dare to stop her.