Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tasteful Monotony
Four recent releases please - superficially

A slick “Fusion” duo from Mumbai, a veteran Rock band from Pakistan, a Punjabi Rock duo from Vancouver and a female Indian vocalist from the US (backed by three-fourth of India’s finest band) – what common connection could one possibly make from their new offerings? All four albums – Colonial Cousins’ Aatma, Junoon’s Andaz, Balle Balle Boys’ Laddoo Kha and Renoo’s Yeh Yaarana have a lot to recommend them by. They are all pleasing to the ear, boast of tasteful arrangements and competent performances, yet fall short of the one thing that could have lifted them out of the realm of the forgettable. Good songwriting.

Aatma by Colonial Cousins (Sony Music)

Hariharan’s marvelous voice coupled with Leslie Lewis’ sense of melody, the meshing of the former’s semi-classical flourishes and the latter’s pleasant derivative pop tunes – should have been a winning combination. But, despite eminently listenable tracks like “Krishna”, “Indian Rain” and “Lady” from their first two albums, the limitations of their songwriting talent trips the duo. They’ve been singing the same 2-3 template tunes over and over and it’s beginning to get on one’s nerves. This, their third offering, once again has “Guiding Star” and “Mata Pita” as its affable highlights. The rest is repetitive elevator music, showcasing their Designer Music. “Sundar Balma”, with a self-conscious female voice reciting mindless inanities through a jingle-like tune, marks their nadir. The smartest Colonial Cousins buy will be their compilation album, at least three more albums down. If they’re still around as a duo then.

Andaz by Junoon (Universal)

They at least have pedigree. Their album Azadi will always be one of the classics of subcontinental pop and by the looks of it, not something the band itself is likely to touch again. This is their third offering since that magnificent album and it all seems downhill really. Parvaz, before this, had made a formula of their sound and despite one terrific song called “Bulleya” the album was a cropper. This one’s worse. Not even one track is even halfway compelling. Well, all right, the instrumental track “Jugal Bandi” is interesting, but that’s one-twelfth of the album. Andaz is the sort of album you play in your car when you want to converse with someone. In their case, perhaps no Greatest Hits compilation will ever be able to top the sheer brilliance of Azadi in toto. Sad.

Laddoo Kha by Balle Balle Boys (Gas Music)

Now, this sounded promising. This Sikh duo from Vancouver, Canada, combine the best of both their worlds. Jaunty Punjabi tunes set to tasteful, crisp rock and roll. Unpretentious and upbeat with some genuinely funny lyrics. So, what’s the problem? Ho hum, they all sound the same. Once you’ve heard the title track and “My Name Is Manjeet”(oho don’t miss that robust pronunciation puttar), they repeat the template. It’s fun, fun, then hmm, umm, yawn. It’s a pity, because the basic buzz is there.

Yeh Yaarana by Renoo (BMG Crescendo)

Probably the most compelling album in this lot, mainly because of the presence of the backing musicians. Renoo Nathan gives the songs voice, competently, just about. The songs are composed and arranged by three members of the superb Delhi band – Indian Ocean. The arrangements are very tasteful and interesting. In some, like the title track, they’re delectably groovy. Unfortunately, the songs face Bollywood-wards and that is enough to take out their sting. Mind you, they’re much classier than anything you’ll get from Bollywood, but ultimately they do not transcend the innate clichés of that spring. Songs like “Zaalim” start off by promising so much, but veer into familiar territory. “Kai Na” and the title track do impress though, but the album on the whole leaves one somewhat unsatisfied. Great backing cannot alone make songs great. Stronger vocals would have certainly lifted the album, but by how much? Ultimately, the songwriting is not distinctive, and that weakens the core, the soul.

Mind you, all four of these albums are still far superior to the abject dross that continues to be spewed out into the Indian pop scene. Unfortunately, the natural talent of the artists is somewhat wasted on these efforts. Good songwriting could draw out classics from the same bunch.

June 2001


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