Friday, January 16, 2009

Delhi-6: Music Review

Delhi-6 is a scintillating and refreshingly fresh album from ARR. It marks a great beginning for this year - hope the rest that will come out of his studio can at least be on par with it! ARR creates a great new soundscape palette in this album... at times it is very contemporary, often traditional yet dipping into various world genres. What really makes you notice this album is the sheer variety of its tracks. When was the last time you listened to an album with 10 songs and each seemed like it came from a different film? Probably only in an assorted mix album which you compiled yourself from various genres! Delhi-6 certainly sounds like the best of the crop and is a really funky, groovy, classical, folky, world-music-y album I have heard from ARR in a long long time. Here's my review:

1. Masakali: This song features in the promo. It is a really kicky and peppy song which starts off with vocals, percussions, an accordion, and an ultra cool bass line. The song just takes off so smoothly that you just get lost in it right from the beginning. Some of the orchestra/keyboard-chamber reminds one of the 70's composers (RDB etc.) Mohit Chauhan (silk route fame) is just perfect for this song, mixing required naughtiness with a casual ease. Full points should be given to ARR for giving a free rein to the singer; indeed ARR must have had a lot of faith in Mohit for him to perform with such ease. This song will catch your attentive ear even in the very first listening. Watch out for the really cool and unusual percussion instruments coming in at weird places at various points through out the song. Guitar additions are very interesting too! All in all a great promo song that is really well sung.

2. Genda Phool: This is my personal first-time-listening-favorite in this album. I mean, it usually takes multiple hearings of a newly released ARR album to form a conclusive opinion. No such osmosis required in this case. It starts of as a very folkish song, supported by coolly nasal female vocal chorus...and I am sure before the first minute is over you will be jumping in your cubicle. Rekha Bhardwaj who regularly sings for Vishal Bhardwaj is the leading vocalist in this song and boy! you feel like Vishal and ARR got together over samosa and chai at Panchatan and thought - "heck! why not mix our strengths and genres". The song is indeed a cocktail of peppy folk compositional styles of the two composers (probably the only two that stand apart from a crowd of fruity loopers).

3: Bhor Bhayee: When you look at the credits for the song, you would probably think it is a typo or a misprint, because it reads "Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Shreya Ghoshal in Gurjri Todi". But not to worry, it is absolutely correct. Shreya really does a great catchup job with Ustadji's recording. Although the landing/downward taans (if that is word I am looking for) don't even compare to the late Master's, it still is a commendable effort by Shreya. Most probably the heroine in the movie is an avid hindustani listener and a budding singer who tries to learn compositions from old recordings. In that spirit, it certainly is apt that shreya ghoshal renders this song. For kids of this gen who don't know the great Ustad, this could be a fabulous way of getting to know about him. Fantastic song and the mixing of the recording with the latest version is very smooth.

4: Hey Kaala Bandar: This song starts off like algerian folk/pop (cheb mami influence?) mixed with a Bulgarian women's choir kind of sound to quickly move into a oh-humdum-suniyore (saathiya) kind of groove. It is pretty peppy with rappy lyrics in between and somehow you also detect traces of punjabi folk and 90s boy band chorus in the interlude (and that algerian/bulgarian vocal sounds in between). The second stanza is totally like a punjabi pop song. All in all, a very groovy and upbeat song. Great song to run to. Some flaming lyrics in second half, when song changes mood and tone with 'saare reethi riwaaz hataakar....' particularly with lines 'jaankar bhi anjaan hain hum sab...paagal hai naadaan hai humsab, jaane kaunse rang mein range..hamaam mein hum saare nange'.pricking and funny."

5: Dil Gira Dafatan: This is the absolute top song of this album. No two ways about it. Fantabulous singing by Ash King - particularly the opening "dil mera" is breath-taking (literally). The style of singing in the opening lines is purely contemporary western. As the song progresses through the first stanza it reminds us of "Scarborough Fair" by Simon and Garfunkel in its ambience blended with the trademark keyboard harmony of ARR. The background orchestra (keyboards etc.) leads up to the first interlude which is an amazing mix of Irish folk with an unusual flourish of chinese first violin. Irish and Chinese - it is like mixing premium blend Scotch with herbal tea, with a dash of german chocolate (the harmony); only in this case it tastes deliciously wonderful. The song is unusual in the atmosphere it creates and the elements it utilizes to create it; great lyrics by Prasoon Joshi given ample time to permeate the musical space - this allows the song to be rendered as if it is part movie song part poetry recital. Chinmayee sounds very sweet in the little pieces around the main tune.

6: Delhi-6: Oh yeah. Electronic-bitsy jamaican-rap-funk. The lyrics are interestingly suffused with the delhi-ish culture - words like mehfil etc., show the historicity - the gaali mein pyaar part is contemporary gulli talk - and the vocal renditions are undoubtedly modern capturing the mood of current youth. Appositely gleaned words from various facets of Delhi for the title track.

7: Noor: One word. Phenomenal! Bacchan Sr. thoroughly enjoys it while reciting, and we enjoy every single word as a result. "Ishq hey us se tho sab se ishq kar, is ibaadat ka yahi dastoor hey".

8: Aarti: Interesting blend of singers: Rekha Bhardwaj, Kishori Gowariker, Shraddha Pandit, Sujata Mazumdar. This is the Northern bhajan version of a style reminiscent of "Aparanji Madanude" from Merupu Kalalu. Bollywoodishly serene bhajan song with a dose of church choir sort of humming. Crisp, clean recording enhances the quality of our listening.

9: Rehna Tu: I love this song. A very ballad-like song with a beat reminiscent of modified Paul Mariat's serenade. I particularly enjoyed the guitars in the background of the song not to mention the waw effects that give the additional titillating kick. The interlude starts off in an Arabic style and then moves into vocals briefly in Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy ishtyle (so much like Dil Chahta Hai's Kaisi hey yeh rut). If you were wondering why carnatic was left out till now in the album, rest your fears - it makes an appearance in a long ending piece in an instrument called the continuum. It is fascinating that this piece sounds like a carnatic raaga without actually being any one in particular that I can place. It is probably close to a begada-like raga (only in scale though, deriving from both Shankarabharanam and HariKambhoji; there are bits that sound like kafi, shankarabharanam, khamas, and a minor tonal-shift part that sounds like abheri near the end).

10: Arziyan: This is a carry-on and carry-over from Piya Haji Ali. Very formulaic ARR qawwali/sufi song, but very nice vocals by Jaaved Ali and Kailash kher. The tune for the lines "Jo Bhi tere dar aaya" and the lines "Daraarein Daraarein hai maathe` pe Maula" is reminiscent of melodies of yesteryears. The tunes used within the song carry the signatures of vintage era. Or probably it is because of the 'Yaman'-sque feel given to it.

This album is a smorgasbord of so many different styles of music, it is mouthwatering to just view the feast let alone savor it. Self-similar souls *wink* who were served generous portions of the album still cannot get over the songs after days of listening to it non-stop (I mean they wake up to these songs, listen to them in their car, at work, on the drive back home, and then also talk about it on the phone). Perhaps this is the ideal kind of buffet where you can eat all you want and neither feel too satiated easily nor be conscious of watching second-derivatives appear in the shape field. The final word - A perfect 10 for AR Rahman.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A.R.Rahman's 2008 Roundup

So A.R.Rahman has won the Golden Globe Award. No, this post is not about extolling his win or the worthiness of the score involved. Criticisms, brickbats and scepticisms about 'if the score really had the merit' or 'if it is Rahman's best' aside and, one must agree that it is a moment of pride for India. The win is definitely a key milestone in his journey, which started almost 17 years ago in 1992, when he scored the music for Maniratnam's Roja for Rs.25,000/-. And his journey is definitely a phenomenal one. His music bounced from Tamil-Telugu to Hindi to Pan-Indian to Hinglish(Vandemataram) to Broadway (Bombay Dreams) to Chinese (Warriors of Heaven & Earth) to British-Scottish (Elizabeth-The Golden Age) to Finnish (The Lord of The Rings) to what not. No Indian composer has managed to pull it off so well. And the run continues...

As i look back, i suddenly see that year 2008 was quite an eventful year for ARR. 7 releases. And i suddenly realized that none of these 7 albums have been reviewed here. So, I thought i will take a quick look at these 7 albums to understand what the Rahman-scape looked like in 2008.

Disclaimer: The merits/demerits of songs mentioned below are purely personal opinions, drawn out of the songs that caught to my liking and ones which didnt.

2008 was characterised by 'planned films' and 'surprises', that added up to 7. Jodha Akbar, Yuvvraaj, Ghajini were planned films, in the sense that the producers/directors knew when they were going to release the film/soundtrack. Surprises were:

1. Ada - a shelved  film; a new film with same name was erected. Apparently, the core or much of the music of this film was composed long before 2008. Apparently, it is still unclear whether this film got released.

2. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na - a film that changed many hands and was almost shelved. It was revived by Aamir Khan.

3. Sakkarakkatti - The film got delayed a lot and finally released in 2008. Also, some songs from 'Meenaxi' have been used. So, if not completely, but partially, the music was not composed in 2008.

4. Slumdog Millionaire - ARR was given the film's DVD and was then asked to add music to the film. The music was done in 2008, but was a surprise which Rahman had to accommodate.

Apart from these, there is one more surprise which was only partially unveiled and is yet to come out into the music stores. More on that later. Lets move on to these albums:

1. Jodha Akbar - This was ARR's 3rd outing with Ashutosh Gowariker and it is a period film. ARR remarked "We did lot of research and did not use any". The music of this film consciously stayed away from the mounting expectations of another 'Mughal-E-Azam'-sque grandeur, to avoid comparisons. The melodies in the film did not evoke the period it represents, but succeeded in sweeping the listener with simple music. All the songs are worth a mention. 'Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah' was ARR's clever reinterpretation of "Veerabobbili kotalo' from Donga Donga, replete with percussions, trumpets and strains of Indian folk. The minimalistically executed 'Jashn-e-bahaara' got Turkish treatment with 'Oud' while ARR's reinterpretation of vintage era music through 'In Lamhon Ke daaman' clearly stood different. His own sufi-music exploration 'Khwaaja Mere Khwaaja' showed that no other indian composer can come up with songs of that kind. 'ManMohana' with all his fascination for SindhuBhairavi had some great vocals and clean interludes, which reminded me of Naushad's music. Jodha Akbar, had its own sound and convincingly dared not to tread the known paths of music that projected Mughal era.

2. Ada - 'Ishq Ada's changing raagas (from MMG to Kapi to SubhaPanthuvaraali) got me interested. 'Hawa Sun Hawa' was breezy to its title, much like some of his songs from late 90s-early 2000 period. 'Gumsum' and 'Gulfisha' disappointed me for they sounded like just-any-composer's tracks. Tu Mera Hai, while staying hummable, sounded extremely South-Indianish and did not seem to fit well in Hindi. Meherbaan by ARR could be easily adapted into English for its universal croonability. Udit's melancholic 'Hai Dard' failed to impress me as much as 'Milo Jahaan Wahaan' did. The latter was infact a wonderful improvisation from ARR's own Climax BGM piece from 'Kannathil Muthamittal'. Ada, was 'aadha' fine.

3. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na - The two variations of the title track were equally engrossing. While the female version was coldly lounge oriented, the male version was anthemic, evocative and expressive. The trendy 'Nazrein Milaana' and ballad-sque` 'Kahi To Hogi', despite being pleasantful failed to hold my attention while ARR's jazz-blues "Tu Bole" reassured me that he is still willing to experiment. The hyped Pappu Cant dance did not impress me much though and nylon string guitar backed 'Kabhi Kabhi' was seriously refreshing. Overall, quite a youthful soundtrack.

4. Sakkarakkatti (Sugar Cubes) - ARR married irish-celtic music to his guitars in 'RuBaRoo Roshni' in "Elay", a song that reminded me of Corrs, clearly proving that he springs up with surprises when you least expect them in a certain film. "I Miss You Da" is something that transcended different genres, atleast for me. "naan Eppodhu" and "Chinnamma" are 'Meenaxi' rehashes and Taxi Taxi, despite being hugely popular failed to catch my fancy. "Marudhaani" became the icing on this sweet cake, which i think was an improvisation from 'Sahana' of 'Sivaji'.

5. Yuvvraaj - ARR - Subhash Ghai have worked before. But Gulzar joining them. Strange. "Main Hoon Yuvraaj" is too small to even comment. "Tu Hi Mera Dost" is a ballad which got completely unpredictable in 2nd stanza. though not a hallmark, the song has that 'hummability' quotient. Shano Shano is for dance floor alone and i didnt get to 'know' if the song works there. 'Mastam Mastam' failed to impress me as much as its parent (a song from ARR's 'Lord of The Rings' Musical) did. The best songs of the album are effervescent "Tu Muskuraa" and ARR's own version of 'Kaise Hai Yeh Rut' (Dil Chahtha Hai) kind of melody in "Zindagi". Not surprisingly, srinivas sang this one too, in which ARR mixed vintage melody with contemporary sound. i always felt that "Dil Ka Rishta"'s lead tune, the signature tune which again repeats towards the end, to be musically handicapped... as if some notes were missing which probably could make it more complete. ARR's lounge-Abheri in "Manmohini' is like an undergrown baby, with lot of potential and still left as it is. Nothing great musically. I know for sure that the songs that would really stay in my mind are 'Tu Hi Mera Dost' 'Tu Muskuraa' and 'Zindagi'. Subhash Ghai, in my opinion, is not a film-maker with whom ARR can produce musically rich output. he might produce hit-music output though.

6. Ghajini - Probably the most commercial of all albums in 2008. Though i usually have better liking for slow songs of ARR usually, this album reversed my phenomenon.'Guzarish' is something which did not need ARR. "Kaise Mujhe" sounded little dragsome while Shreya Ghoshal's lines save it a bit. Still, i end up skipping this song. "Aye Bacchu" is girlily fun-frolicksome and rendition is apt for such mood. "Lattoo" is probably Pritam's track which ARR unknowingly inserted into this Cd. "Behka" has very good rendition and has an interesting mix of instruments, notably Trumpet, jazz-trap kit, saxophone. the song sounds like a throwback at Jazz-blues keeping guitars intact. The interludes stand up superbly but stanzas crash down. Behka is a classic case of a song being both - just beautiful and just bad. Ghajini, as a score, is less hummable and will not be remembered much.

7. Slumdog Millionaire - This film is not ARR's best although it won the Golden Globe. But then, the way we listen and perceive music is different from the way westerners do, which is why, probably this score could catch the attention. We might give an award to probably a Lagaan or Dil Se, but their sensibilities are different. Much of this album is techno music and i find it surprising myself (it is a surprise for ARR too) that the audience abroad, for a change, preferred this kind of music, over the usual orchestral works. The album starts with 'O saya' which boasts of some good percussions and rap. Mausam & Escape has a frenzy sitar piece which is re-played by string section backed by synth beats. 'Paper Planes' is a track by an artist named MIA and not by ARR. So is 'Aaj Ki Raat' (Shankar-Ehsan-Loy...for Don). Riots has an interesting sound, which, by now, got me the message that most of the music makes sense with visuals and not as a standalone album. My another favourite is 'Liquid Dance' which is ARR's re-improvisation from "Spirit of Rangeela". i found the hiphoppish 'Gangsta Blues' annoying while 'Millionaire' is just some work on sequencer, which, as i said, only elevates a certain scene. 'Latika's Theme' and its vocal counterpart 'Dreams on Fire' are both engage-some melodies, much like 'Meherbaan' from Ada - Universally adaptable.ARR's take on 'Choli Ke Peeche' 'Ringa Ringa' is interesting, because it magnifies his improvisation capabilities. The song just reminds us of the former and does nothing less. For a moment, one might even wonder if Rahman bettered it. The grand finale song, "Jai Ho" originally written for 'Yuvvraaj', is just a peppy number with lot of 'hummability' quotient. SDM is purely experimental, for it is a visual-oriented score. As a stand alone album, it has a few hits and a few misses, making it an 'OK' album. But then, I am happy that it fetched an honour.

The last surprise from ARR in 2008 was/is a non-film album called 'Connections', which has got 9 tracks. The album has not yet been released on Cds, but it got released in the form of 'pre-loaded music' in the new Nokia Express Music mobile phones. I got a chance to listen to the songs only once and i must say that they are quite good, rich and lot different from all the above albums. There are both, songs and instrumentals, stretching from traditional classical music to jazz blues to Rajasthani Folk. It is rare that an ARR album sounds impressive in the 1st listening itself and I think the tracks in this album are done to satisfy his own creative urge, free of commercial trappings. I think the cd should be out in couple of months.

So What has ARR planned for 2009? Connections for sure. The promos of 'Delhi 6' too show some promise.I am looking forward to these two albums. I just hope that he strikes a good balance between musically rich albums and commercial albums (the need of his producers) like he did in 2008. For now, the accordian tune from this teaser got stuck in my mind and the only way to release it is... to listen to this album soon.