varnachitram

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Music Review: Rock’n Roll or Tumble?

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My first exposure to a Vidyasagar melody was in 1996—the sublime saranga melody “Thankathingal” (Indraprastham). I felt a unique balance between rhythm and melody in that song and has been a Vidyasagar admirer since. Starting with his entry with the immensely popular “Vennila chandana kinnam” (Azhagiya Raavanan), Vidyasagar is a musician that can change from one genre to another like a chameleon. It is hard to describe his “style”. Lately he has been composing the “Konjam Neram” (Chandramukhi)-style melodies a shade too much for my comfort.

He uses simple rhythms, very little strings, but a lot of synths. But his songs never overpower you with instrumental voices. He gives due credit to the human voice, but occasionally does wander into the Harris Jayaraj-GV Prakash-other ARR wannabes-realm (e.g. Sudum Nilavu; Thambi). Although he is not originally from Kerala, Vidyasagar has a unique ability to use words well inside melodies (e.g. Pinneyum pinneyum, Yaathrayaay sooryankuram), without either the melody or the words sticking out. He is also an exceptionally talented, well qualified, and intelligent MD. Because of all of what I wrote so far, I was a bit disappointed, but not too surprised, with his latest release Rock’n Roll.

Manchadi Mazha (Singers: Madhu Balakrishnan, Sujata): belongs to the collection of “konjam neram”-style melodies that Vidyasagar has been composing a lot lately. I think this trend started with the “ Ninakkentemanassile” song from Gramaphone. One good thing about this trend is that though many of them sound similar, almost all of them are sublime melodies. Like its very similar precursor (Enthanennu from Goal), the song uses the typical Vidyasagar ingredients—heavy melody, synth sounds, extremely light strings, sporadic chorus and raga.

The two singers Madhu and Sujata have sung their hearts out, and this just shows the importance of quality singing. Listen to the subtle gamakams used in the charanam (e.g. thelivaarnnuni~~lppoo, kadalinte mo~u~nam….). Additionally, I liked the bass patterns, especially the transition during the switch into the first interlude.

Valayonnithaa (Singers: Vijay Yesudas, Geemon, Pradeep Palluruthy, Ranjith): is the jolly-camaraderie-folk song. This reminded me of Vidyaji’s own “Thekku thekku” (Ezhupunnatharakan). The MD has tried to maintain melody in the midst of the informal and often annoying lyrics. Perhaps that’s the goal—to make us feel annoyed. I am sure this would be another one of the chartbusters. The MD has used a lot of percussion as the lead character plays a drummer. Overall, it is a standard-fare item-number.

Chandamaama (Singers: Anita, Rija): This is another buoyant song featuring a new singer. It seems that the song has topped the hit charts. The song has a lot of percussion. The percussion becomes the mainstay especially during the second interlude. The lyrics seemed to be very awkwardly fitted into the rhythms, which is odd for a Vidyasagar melody. From an attention-grabbing perspective, the song might score, but musically, it seemed that the song had vocals as a “third wheel”.

Raavereyaay (Madhu B.): When I first noticed that Vidyasagar is going to score music for this film, this was the kind of music I expected. The dramatic strings/piano beginning is swiftly followed by percussion and synth patterns. The first and second lines (Pallavi) are superbly crafted. Madhu B.’s powerful voice and the bass played very subtly make that part very impactful.

However, suddenly, there is a let down in the emotion (hear the lines-Oru yaathrikaneevazhi—-pooviral thottu…). I guess, I might have missed the point here. But, when the song reverts back to the pallavi (Raavereyaay) I do feel the impact. The first musical interlude is surprisingly bland, not in tune with the passionate nature of the song. The charanam starts with the same passion as the pallavi. Then it again dampens down with a subdued but melodious last part. Sometimes I do feel that the MD was just playing with (a.k.a experimenting) with the music.

Jiruthana (Singers: Ranjith, Tippu): The song did not interest me at first and I used to skip it each time I heard the album. But I was interested in the rhythm (hear Angel Eyes, Raghav). It sounds like a Persian rhythm. I have the same issue with the lyrics specifically in the pallavi and anupallavi as I mentioned in the “Chandamaama” song. However, the charanam (Aakkaraykkaano alle alla) is interesting to hear and lyric flows nicely with the percussion. There is interesting contrast between light pitched sounds and the bass provided by the guitars and percussion.

While some of the songs are moving forward in the hit charts, I feel that this album is a step back for Vidyasagar. Why am I saying that? Listen to “Aazhakkannal”, “Mouname Unnidam” and “Kaatrin Mozhi” (Mozhi). Not only are they melodious, they are deep, and strike your soul. The argument against this premise (that this album is a step backwards) could be that this had a situational requirement that it was about a percussionist. True, but sometimes you do expect a lot from talented MDs.

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