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Music Review – Big B: Here’s for the crazy ones

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“Here’s to the crazy ones, the rebels, the trouble makers….the ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius…”

Transcript from an old Apple commercial.

Just recently, I was rambling about the lack of “stuff” in Malayalam film music to my family and friends. I am not saying that we do not have good songs. I am talking about composers not having the strength to push music to the edge. Not for topping the charts, but for the sheer joy of the moment, the adrenalin rush, whatever.

When Reghukumar-Rajamani team used powerful sustaining electric guitars and orchestral strings in the arranging the song Ponveene (Thaalavattam), I do not think that they were thinking about making a “hit” song (just by the use of such innovative patterns). They just did it. So did Jacob Alexander in the song Etho Kadinjoolkkinaavinte (Kaalaalpada).

In Tamil music industry, there was Ilayaraaja and now A. R. Rahman to do that, whereas in ours, there were none. Why? Because our audience is known for rejecting anything slightly different from tradition, and at the same time, hail the same innovations when it comes in other languages. Now, this is not blame, it’s just our nature.

Alphons Joseph is a music director from whom you can always expect the unexpected, and both as a listener and as a reviewer, I like that! All of his albums (except Iruvattam) were extra-ordinary compositions pushing the edge, bringing us a variety never before seen from a single composer. He incorporated both western (e.g. ithile nee) and eastern classical music (e.g. keranirakal) seamlessly and often forced us to take a look at different worlds of music.

With Big B, three things have happened. First, Alphons has carved a unique style of his own. Remember, almost every single MD in India somehow or other tries to imitate A R Rahman, knowingly or unknowingly. Some are even clones. If you listen to each and every song of Big B (barring the “Hip Hop” track), you’ll see that the songs are both traditional (e.g. orchestral movements in Vidaparayuka) and modern (e.g. the techno patterns in Oru Vaakkum); focused (e.g. Muthumazha) and eclectic (Oh January). That’s what I call “versatility”.

When you listen to the orchestra in Vidaparayuka you will be transported to an Ilayaraaja-realm. In fact, many compositions have that “mixed” feel. By mixed, I am referring to the raw feel induced by Illayaraja’s compositions (in 80s and 90s) and the highly electronic, hazy ambience created by A R Rahman.

Second, the tracks will grow on you. When I heard the songs for the first time, I shrugged and thought: What’s so unique about these? Four days later most of the songs were on repeat mode on my computer.

The third thing is the ambience. In my previous review on Notebook, I mentioned about the importance of creating an ambience (Song: Iniyum Mounamo). Almost all of the songs in Big B have a unifying ambience. This is made up of mysterious trance like male or female solo voices or chorus coupled with powerful bass sounds. That is sometimes called a “theme” or a “signature”.

Now, let me qualify by saying this: I am a huge fan of his. I became a fan through his music. So my ideas in this review might be positively biased. Yet, I have tried my best to incorporate responses from others and evaluate things from an objective point of view.

Vidaparayukayaano? (Shreya Ghoshal)

This track is perhaps one of the finest, purest western classical compositions in Indian Film Music. You do not have to dig too much to confirm this. There have been very few such compositions. Some other examples are: Devasangeetham (Guru), Oh Priya (Geethanjali), Kottumkuzhal Vili (Kaalapani), Sundari Kannal (Dalapathy), and Saara Yeh Aalam (Shiva).

The song is more like a symphony. The haunting humming by Shreya is quickly joined by a melodious classical guitar arpeggio skillfully concealing the underlying complexity. As mentioned in my previous reviews, listen to the manner in which the light sounds of the guitar are contrasted with the low-pitched bass provided by cello. When the first lines are repeated, more cellos and violins are carefully introduced.

The chord progression is extra-ordinary. Western classical flute and classical guitar take us through the first interlude. The mood changes as Shreya sings Mazha tharum… Listen to the precise introduction of an Oboe (?) sound as the words mukilukal is sung. Woodwinds (flute, oboe) and strings slowly take over as the crescendo progresses. Then the orchestra takes off with delicate coordination between Brass (e.g. Trumpets, Bassoons), Strings (Violin & cellos) and Choral voices. This arrangement, in my view, takes Alphons to a new realm. Are the other MDs listening?

Oru Vaakkum Mindaathe (Alphons & Mridula)

From a vocal point of view, this is my pick of the album. Again, you can appreciate the ambience created in the beginning of the song: hazy, mysterious and trance like. The rhythm pattern is surprisingly forceful. A slow paced techno pattern assists two types of drums. One pattern seems to be synthesized. Frequently, live middle-eastern type percussion is added to give a very active feel. The song, again grew on me in about 2-3 days.

Generally, I do not like when MDs sing their own songs (e.g. ARR, IR, Yuvan etc.). But Alphons and M. Jayachandran do sound decent when they sing. In fact both of these MDs could easily pose as singers and get away with it. Still, I wish that Alphons gave this beautiful song to P. Jayachandran. I guess he was looking for a “western” pop like voice (Vidhu Pratap?).

The first interlude has mostly an uneventful nature until the end, where a beautiful Gregorian chant- style chorus is sung. This is again, a move from no where (remember pushing the edge thing?). The melody becomes really drenched with emotion when the lines Ninnil nizhalaakan…”. Mridula’s voice seemed unique, but a slight discomfort is palpable. As the song ends, Alphons again reminds us of the ambience he created in the beginning, bringing the song together.

Muthu Mazha (Vineeth and Jyolsna)

Yet again, watch for the ambience created. You should be able to recognize the similarity of this feel with the other songs’. This is a typical “music album” number. In my opinion, Srinivas or P. Jayachandran would have been the better choices for this song. Vineeth’s voice seems to be strained at times. Why am I saying this? Listen to the lines en munnil va*nnathenth*ino.. In the marked areas his voice strains and thins to almost nothing. That’s where a singer like Srinivas would have shined.

However, that said, overall Vineeth has done a decent job singing. Alphons also surprises us with the words You’re my destiny, keyed perfectly with the overall mood of the song. The rhythm pattern is rocking and the chorus will make you sway with the rhythm. I would argue that this is purely a rhythm based melody. It seemed like the tune was derived from the rhythm. The pattern is slightly retro (remember the disco numbers of the 80s?), with the bass sounds individually making up a part of the rhythm itself. Bass guitars also come into the forefront when the chorus is sung.

Oh January (Sayanora)

When is the last time we have seen an exotic musical number in Malayalam since Yodha? Well, here it is. This song is an eclectic mix of middle-eastern (Turkish?), Eastern European and Spanish music. I heard someone comment that it is similar to some of Shakira’s songs. Sayanora shows off her singing genius. Remember, it was Alphons who gave her another gem of a song (Am I dreaming?).

Although a lot of effort has gone into this song to make it authentic, it is also its disadvantage, I believe. The song is a treasure cove of percussion, guitars and solo violin melodies. However, Malayalam lyrics felt completely out of place. Sometimes, I felt that there were a lot of starts and stops, disturbing the flow. Overall, I did not like this song.

Hip Hop (Shelton & Sherdhin)

I had written earlier about unwarranted outliers: this is one. I was a little bit let down by this song. It is hard to believe that Alphons composed this. Even if you argue about the unique nature of this genre, I felt that the song was poorly composed and very carelessly sung. There is an unnecessary “rush” and a lot of noise. Skip this track, unless you are willing to listen to ANY Hip Hop number.

Finally, I am not sure how this album is going to fare in hit charts, when compared to some of the crass songs that have come out this Vishu. But, if you are a music enthusiast and you are open to multiple genres in world music, I can guarantee that these songs will grow on you in a week. The exquisite orchestral arrangements and out-of-this-world singing (Shreya) are some of the valuable things that this album offers. I do expect some awards for this album. Since many people may not realize the beauty of the western classical compositions, Alphons’s chances are unfortunately slim. However, I feel that Shreya might get one.

So, go to the nearest musical store and buy a CD for your collection and patiently hear them. You will be at least familiarized with different genres of music, if not entertained!

15 Comments

  1. I heard only one song from this album so far – Vida Parayukayaano – and was blown away with music, orchestration and Shreya’s amazing vocals. She is a gem of Indian music industry, no doubt, and we should thank Alphons to bring her to Malayalam. There wasn’t much of diction issues except very minor ones.

    Alphons himself is a very good singer as I have heard him singing very high notes in both Hindustani and western songs when he performed live.

    Thank you for this review. Shall listen to rest of the songs.

  2. An apt review. You’ve managed to cover all aspects that made me love this movie’s soundtrack. ‘Vida Parayukayaano’ is my pick. And as Jo said, what a wonderful voice!

    In case you’re looking for the songs, this might help:

    http://www.hummaa.com/index.php

  3. KK, Vida Parayukayano is my favourite in this album, it stands out from our typical film songs.

  4. excellent review.inspired me to listen to the music of big b.excellent work.keep up the good work

  5. Jo: Yes, Shreya’s song is brilliant, both from the singing perspective and it’s arrangements. You should hear the others too. Did not like the “Hiphop” number, others are good.

    Pradeep: Thanks. Glad that you liked that song. Not many MDs (except IR & ARR) can attempt that orchestral arrangement. The composer needs to have point/counterpoint skills and just a good “sound”-knack. This is where classical music training comes in handy!

    Srini: Orchestrally, that song is my favorite too. But from a “melody” perspective, “Oru Vaakkum” does strike a chord.

    Mridula: Glad you listened to the album. Such albums inspire me to write reviews. Unfortunately such albums and music directors are rare in our film music.

    Happy listening,
    Cheers,
    KK

  6. Very good review…Except Vidaparayumbol,there is nothing special about this album.But I liked Alphonse and he is one of the talented music directors in Malayalam.I liked “Keranirakal” a lot….

  7. i really love all the songs in this album..
    alphonse..the all credit goes to him, i really become a fan of this guy ..,and he proves he is good singer too..,and thats my favourite song in this album..’oru vakkum..

  8. Every time a new movie is released, I always look at the list of singers. There are so many new singers these days trying to make a mark – more so in Tamil. But I miss some of our wonderful singers in Malayalam. Unni Menon who has sung so many hits in Malayalam us rarely seen in Malayala. Granted that he is so busy in Tamil (one of the most beautiful songs in Tamil this year was sung by Unni Menon and Bombay Jayashree in Vettaayadu Vilayadu); and has so may ARR hits to his name. I would love to see him back in Malayalam ( remember the old hits – thozhuthu madangam in Aksharangal; pookkalam vannu pookkalam in godfather; poonkatte poyi chollamo etc.)

  9. Oh January was n exotic n good to hear song….
    the voice was jus so seducing and huskier in its own way..
    by far one of the best exotic songs i’ve ever heard ….
    love the gals voice…
    sayanora….
    i cant find the lyrics anywhere…
    i searched for a whole week can anyone help me

  10. The only thing that made me mad about this album was the song Oh January. It is such pretty much an exact copy of Shakira’s song Ojos Asi.

    I mean, the lyrics are obviously changed to malayalam and i believe it is a slight faster, but still.. The song starts of with the original spanish lyrics and some of the chorus portions are the exact same as the original.

    So at first i believed the singer had re-recored the spanish lyrics, but if you listen carefully, you can almost hear it switch to shakira. Shakira has a really husky and unique voice.

    i just think thats a little too much copying. I don’t know much about the music director..but he could of came up with his own piece of Mediterranean music..not copied a song from 10 years ago. I hope he atleast gave her a little credit for the song.

    I remember when the original song came out and it is a favorite of mine and that is why i had to write this. I had to share the original with someone..

    here is a link to check out the original if anyone is interested.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAlTlcXGGe4

    ~thanks for reading 😉

  11. Anu:
    Thank you for pointing it out. As I mention it in the review, I was alerted by one of the discussion forums about it being similar to Shakira’s songs, but I did not know that it was an exact lift. That is a real shame–I never like copying, especially note-for-note.
    Hope he does not do this again…
    KK

  12. You made a GRAVE MISTAKE in this review. “Oh January” does not “sound like Shakira’s songs”. It IS one of Shakira’s songs – a translation of her song “Ojos Asi”. The singer even sings some of the original Spanish! Credit to Shakira must be given. It doesn’t sound like Shakira’s work, it IS her work.

  13. Oh, this was already addressed – sorry.

    But I am trying to figure out this mystery. Let me explain – I am rpvee, known on several Shakira websites as “The Ojos Asi Guy”. Why? I have over 100 versions of Ojos Asi (this cover on Big B now added to the collection). Not only that, but I know tons of information about Ojos Asi. That is why this cover is so shocking to me – I had never heard of it before (probably because of the name change). How old is this album?

    If you could please tell me everything you know about “Oh January”, and if any credit to Shakira is given on the CD (case, etc.), that will help me discover if this is an approved cover, or truly an illegal copy.

  14. rpvee:
    Thanks for your comments. I did not see the movie nor seen the detailed credits. So I don’t know all those details about the administrative details of the album.
    Sorry,
    KK

  15. Hello again!

    I was wondering if you could understand the language that “Oh January” is in, and if you can, could you tell me its translation?

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