â€œHereâ€™s to the crazy ones, the rebels, the trouble makersâ€¦.the ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see geniusâ€¦â€
Transcript from an old Apple commercial.
Just recently, I was rambling about the lack of â€œstuffâ€ 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 â€œhitâ€ 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, itâ€™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 â€œHip Hopâ€ track), youâ€™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). Thatâ€™s what I call â€œversatilityâ€.
When you listen to the orchestra in Vidaparayuka you will be transported to an Ilayaraaja-realm. In fact, many compositions have that â€œmixedâ€ feel. By mixed, I am referring to the raw feel induced by Illayarajaâ€™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: Whatâ€™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 â€œthemeâ€ or a â€œsignatureâ€.
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 tharumâ€¦ 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 â€œwesternâ€ 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 nizhalaakanâ€¦”. Mridulaâ€™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 songsâ€™. This is a typical â€œmusic albumâ€ number. In my opinion, Srinivas or P. Jayachandran would have been the better choices for this song. Vineethâ€™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. Thatâ€™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 Youâ€™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 Shakiraâ€™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 â€œrushâ€ 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, Alphonsâ€™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!