Danh Việt – Chẳng Có Tình Ca

With Danh Việt’s debut, Chẳng Có Tình Ca, composer-producer Quốc Bảo gives the Vietnamese pop scene the middle finger. The title of the album is a hint that he’s fed the fuck up with the current trend: covering old standards to death or making reprehensible pop hits. I don’t blame him.

Make no mistakes. Quốc Bảo is a pop artist at heart. The different is that he makes pop records, not pop hits. The latter goes viral then swiftly disappears. He is not interested in making hits; therefore, he has carved out his own path and it’s working out well for him.

Chẳng Có Tình Ca features seven tracks. They are dead simple, melodic, but not too catchy or heady. Unlike most hits in the pop territory, which grab your attention immediately, they slowly but surely find their ways into your heart and soul the more you listen. Quốc Bảo has mastered the art of simplicity and he understands less is more. Although Danh Việt has a charming baritone and he could easily pour his heart out to ballads, Quốc Bảo demanded that he holds back his delivery for this record. Even on the darkest song, “B’s Blue,” he sings with effortlessness and leaves room for the intoxicating blues guitar solo. In “Đối Thoại Nửa Đêm,” a duet with Dạ Ngân, he kicks off the poignant lines: “Thu nối sang đông để gió / Xin mũi kim may vào lòng.” The conversation between the two sound like the relationship has turned sour rather than painful (like the needle poking through his soul).

Even on the more brighter numbers like “An” and “Em Mở Ra Tình Mới,” Danh Việt never sounded joyful. The former comes off lazy and the latter comes across appreciative. Opposite to “B’s Blue,” which is the longest and most painful track, “Em Mở Ra Tình Mới,” which is the shortest (only 1:41 minutes) and the most cheerful number, indicates that happiness could just be a brief moment. Despite its brevity, the tune reveals Quốc Bảo’s lyricism. His description of a woman is quite unorthodox and yet so beautiful: “Mùa hoa em nở giữa đông / rét thu vai buồn lắm thân / mà vẫn đẹp sao nàng hương u trầm.”

Going against the grain might be a lonesome direction, but Quốc Bảo has proved that he could make it work. His simple musical approach combined with his slightly eccentric lyricism make him one of the very few standout modern musicians in the overcrowded pop market. He deserves the recognitions as well as the paychecks.