Monday, September 03, 2012

Neethane En Ponvasantham / Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu

When tamil film director Gautham Menon (whose last film was Vinaithaandi Varuvaaya) roped in Ilaiyaraaja for his next urban romantic flick, it triggered many expectations. Then, photographs of his recording sessions in London with symphony orchestra musicians there were all over facebook, which fuelled them more. When the first teaser of song Saindhu Saindhu released, the expectations half-crashed (for some people like me). But when the album is finally out, I realize that Ilaiyaraaja has other plans - of taking the audience on an enthralling journey. The director, Gautham Menon, must be commended for giving so much leeway to Ilaiyaraaja (in terms of budget etc.) that ilaiyaraaja could accomplish his vision for this score with such finesse. Telugu version (Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu) songs are also out although the lyrics are nothing great to write about. Here is my take on album:

1. Kaatre Konjum/Koti Koti – Easily my most favourite composition of the album. Reminiscent of the melodies Ilaiyaraaja belted out in 80s, this song belongs to ‘evergreen’ genre, though in reality, its genre can be called as jazz+western-classical. Karthik’s rendition is top notch. Ilaiyaraaja fills up the composition with lush orchestral counter-melodies, chord progressions and punctuations. The unpredictable flow of instruments in 1st interlude, the saxophone, the gliding down from the stanza, the special flourish that the string orchestra adds after 1st stanza – every moment has lot of meat. The song completely demonstrates what Ilaiyaraaja can do when he is given a philharmonic orchestra. Classy, modern and melodious!

2. Mudhal Murai/Atu Itu – Sunidhi Chauhan’s rendition is good. The tune sounds more international to me. Ilaiyaraaja elevated the composition with marvelous orchestration. I’ve been told Ilaiyaraaja used 10 cellos and 5 double basses in this song. The World Music evoking interlude piece has a nice electric violin by London based violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, while the stanza rides on synth-bass. Ilaiyaraaja conceiving this kind of tune is a surprise for me and he pulls it off with panache! Experimental song brilliant executed.

3. Saindhu Saindhu/Yedhi Yedhi – The teasers of this song sowed seeds of doubt about this album. While Ilaiyaraaja flings those doubts out of the window with this delectable melody, yuvan’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb for me. The Telugu version, by Shaan, is much better. But Ilaiyaraaja weaves magical dreamy interludes on piano and string section. One of the pleasant melodies, the pleasant-quotient depending upon how much you enjoy Yuvan’s voice which, by the way, was Gautham Menon’s choice.

4. Pudikele Mamu/Nachaledhu Maama – The progressive-rock feel in the prelude made me wonder if this is indeed by a 70 year old man. If the theme of “class bunking students, college fun” made Ilaiyaraaja do a “Botany Paatamundhi” in Shiva in 1989, then the same theme gets updated into this composition in 2012. Exactly one-half of the song was enjoyable for me – thanks to goose-bumpy guitar riffs and the tune. The song, however, goes downhill in the 2nd half.

5. Ennodu Vaa Vaa/Enthentha dooram – A trip back into 80s, this is a melodious composition set to a nice swinging rhythm. Karthik again shines bright with his rendition while Ilaiyaraaja laces the song with violins, clarinets, trumpets, cellos, metal-flutes – all creating a peppy riot. Watch the way instruments take flight during 1st stanza – delight! Ilaiyaraaja changes the canvas altogether in 2nd half when synthesizers completely take over, but keeping the melody of the song intact. However, the ‘type of synth elements’ (kind of sounds) used could have been much better – sounds that live up to the playfulness of the tune. Raaja had given such funky sounds earlier. Nevertheless, it is a very catchy and playful composition that will reach the masses.

6. Sattru Munbu/Intha kaalam – An operatic melody, this is another surprise that Ilaiyaraaja throws at us. Beautifully sung by Ramya, this song has Ilaiyaraaja changing scales in main melody like only he can. I really couldn’t predict where the song was heading to and yet, when it completed the whole crescendo, everything sounded so much in place and perfect. The usual orchestral embellishments charm us. Particularly, as the song approaches its end, the choir slowly ascends in intensity competing with the string orchestra, giving a great pathos effect.

7. Vaanam Mele/Laayi Laayi – This song begins like some of 80s Ilaiyaraaja songs – on chorus. A warm melody wrapped in orchestral delight, one cannot stop marveling at the scintillating arrangements in this song. The tune of the song itself follows a fugue like formula – a motif keeps repeating. The interludes are Grand! The stanzas however, are slightly predictable, if you have been following Ilaiyaraaja’s work. Also, I felt this song could have been much better if Ilaiyaraaja used the vocals of any other singer. Breezy this song might be and soft his vocals might be – but still they don’t seem to add up as 1+1 =2 for me. Even Bela Shinde’s voice feels slightly discomforting when she touches the high notes in the stanzas (Shreya Ghoshal missed). Nevertheless, as a composition, it’s a beauty.

8. Pengal Endraal/ardhamayyindhinthe – Another non-typical Ilaiyaraaja song that spews lot of angst and Ilaiyaraaja used electric guitar (I think) as his primary-instrument here. Ilaiyaraja goes completely rock in this song. I have never seen him put in this much of into-the-face (metallic) rock quotient in any of his songs and it indeed shows that Ilaiyaraaja is genre agnostic. He just imports the genre, domesticates and leaves his stamp on it. Listen to this song as “Ilaiyaraaja song” and chances are that you might dislike it. But if you do have a flair for rock/progressive-rock genres, this might be for you. This song took some time to grow on me. But, Yuvan’s vocals did not impress me although the stanzas do sound better. I loved the guitar riffs a lot. Adding this after writing the review and listening to this song a lot: This song is perhaps Ilaiyaraaja's tribute to Mahavishnu Orchestra and the likes. Just remove Yuvan's vocals and replace with a solo violin - it can become a classic. Compared to the romantic-ballad feel the other songs carry, this song comes across as unimpressive because of the culture shock but don't dismiss it. The guitar riffs, the fleeting raag pathdeep+keeravani-ish traces and classic rock elements tease you as you listen along. This song is probably the most envelope-pushing song in this album where Ilaiyaraaja defies himself. 

This album has Ilaiyaraaja going full-throttle on symphony orchestra. he uses instruments such as violins, clarinets, bass, cellos, trumpets, oboe, Piano, French-horn, harp etc. to weave a rich fabric of musical canvas on which he skillfully paints his melodies of both eras – his ‘80s brand of melody’ as well his current form of experimental-self. There are few sore thumbs such as the choice of Yuvan as singer etc., but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Wonderful tunes, eclectic mix of genres (rock, jazz, romantic, fun, etc.), sweeping orchestrations are few of the many high-points of this album. This album is not Ilaiyaraaja’s come-back, for he has always been consistently giving good music. But it is one of those special albums in which gets to do a bit of everything – please his fans, experiment with newer melodies, bend genres, work with philharmonic orchestra, excel at arrangements and impress the wider audience. 

At an age when he no longer needs to prove his genius, this 70 year old composer is still writing great music replete with melody, orchestral richness, and intensity and is still eager to try something new. Neethane En Ponvasantham is an accomplishment of Ilaiyaraaja that vindicates this fact.  

Grab the Telugu mp3s here and Tamil mp3s here. But given the brilliant recording quality and the music, I recommend music buffs to buy cds. 


Anonymous said...

Good write up. The energy he has managed to manifest at 70 is simply not human. This is creativity at its best.

There is no reference to this sound.

A new genre is born. We can aptly call it the "Illayaraja Genre".

Swaminathan Jayaraman said...

Beautifully written. Each song technically analyzed. Raja rockzz, as usual.

Srinivas said...

Great review. I thought I was just reading out my mind. Ilayaraja is like an ocean.. He only makes us crave for more and more from his bag of pearls .. I am not sure why the expected fever didn't catch up Telugu people yet (we are known to be late) ...