Friday, August 19, 2005

Classy Encore

Aks - yet another superb album from Lucky Ali


Just like the song “Mausam” was enough motivation to buy the album Sifar (1998), this time around “Kitni Haseen Zindagi” is enough reason to pick up Lucky Ali’s latest album Aks. The arrangements are breathtaking – effervescent acoustic guitars, moody flute, jaunty morsing, uplifting hums, and above all, Ali’s wondrous, joyful voice, just happy to be alive. Rajasthani rhythms merge with western pop sensibility (the classy variety) resulting in breathtaking magic. That man Mike McLeary again – producer and arranger extraordinaire. Beautiful melody, stunning arrangements, lovely lyrics – what else is there?

And just like Sifar had a lot else to recommend it for besides “Mausam”, there’s lots of interesting music in Aks. The album opener, the likely flagship song – “Tere Mere Saath” sets the tone for the rest of the album. Upbeat and classy, this one’s the most derivative track in the album; it sounds like a couple of songs you think you’ve heard before (especially the first guitar solo, which becomes a chorus – very similar to George Michael’s “Faith”) but can’t necessarily put your finger on. It seems very much a song designed for the charts, yet it has Ali’s quintessential reflective touch. The arrangements are artful and the track is delightful eventually, and that’s all that counts.

“Kaisi Tanhai” has a groovy beat and sophisticated arrangements. Repeated listening actually increases its pleasure. This is true for most of the album. The moody “Behti Nadi”, the interestingly angry “Mehboob” and the reggae-influenced title track – all are songs that grow on you while showcasing innovative arrangements and superb playing. “Pyaar Ki Duniya” is another wonderfully unusual track that builds up beautifully – the use of the “Ek Pal Ka Jeena” chorus from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai is baffling though.

“Tu Kaun Hai” (used previously for the film Bhopal Express) is an absolute masterpiece. Superb lyrics by Piyush Pandey, imaginative percussion by Joe Legwabe, flowing guitar-work by Mike McLeary, Lucky Ali’s voice straining with yearning…all this captures the feeling of a train rumbling on, so immaculately, so perfectly.

“Ek Na Ek Din” continues the magic. Beautifully sung, masterfully arranged, superbly played. The closing track is the gentle “Sandesh”, reminding us for the first time on this album that the intimacy and quietness that characterised Ali’s first album Sunoh – still his best work, has been lost somewhere. “Sandesh” again demonstrates how effective that aspect of Ali’s music is; perhaps it is his hallmark.

If anything, that is the only shortfall in the album, which it has in common with Sifar before this. Sunoh had an intimacy and an emotional directness that was accentuated by the sparse arrangements on it. Both Sifar and Aks clutter the soundscape with too many instruments, perhaps diluting that quality somewhat. Still, this works slightly better in Aks because most of the compositions seem to have been written as band songs (a superb band it is too).

A lot of people don’t realise that the most special thing about Lucky Ali’s songs is his voice. What it lacks in technical proficiency, it makes up amply in feeling. His vocals have a very human, lived-in quality that is very rare in Indian music, especially film music (like Mukesh, maybe). Instead of celebrating this quality, a lot of people harp on about his “weak” voice. Boy, these people must really hate Dylan, Tom Waits and Randy Newman.

I don’t know about you people out there – but I’ve discovered that I get as much pleasure out of a Lucky Ali album as I do out of a Dylan, Beatles, R.E.M. or a Van Morrison album. There is something about Lucky Ali’s songwriting (besides the superb musicianship, courtesy McLeary), some hard-to-explain quality that enchants one greatly, that is often moving - a personal examination of feelings, always tinged with a compassion that perhaps only age brings. And there is something very Indian about the expression, despite the arrangements. Also, his consistency is special - he’s yet to write a throw-away song, which is amazing.

Most write-ups about him moronically pun on his first name. But honestly, he’s not the one who’s really lucky. We, his listeners, are.


Gentleman
January 2001

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