Thoughts on the AE/Yuva soundtrackDisclaimer: I haven't heard this album (Aaytha Ezhuthu that is) from the CD, only from decent quality .rms and mp3s. This is not a review, so it doesn't matter. Plus, I don't have a CD player that can play the copy protected CD, so ironically it prevents me from buying it - can't help that.
It doesn't help that seven times in the past the combination of Mani Ratnam, A.R.Rahman and Vairamuthu have delivered some of the best soundtracks in the last 15 years. Their music has had both commercial and critical success - with album sales and National Awards testament to them. So when the latest offering is due, one can't help but feel excited about the prospect of their 8th collection. For me, Aaytha Ezhuthu ranks #8 on that list. They have covered a lot of musical ground in the past, so I don't quite agree with the appeal for not comparing this to the earlier ones. It is inevitable, and I don't see it as a negative comment.
Initial disappointment has given way to a certain making of peace with it. The songs are definitely not outstanding among all the many ones done in the past. However, there is quite a bit to relish from it too. I don't think Rahman is floundering, for Meenaxi showed that the depth and range is still there. Since I haven't seen AE, I don't know if the songs fit the film well.
It has been quite interesting to see how the fan communities react to each release. "Fan-aticism"is an oft-discussed topic among my social circle, particularly w.r.t to music - the R.D.Burman groups and shows give me a chance for more objective observation. In this case, I'm a fan struggling to retain my objectivity. The fact that I'm a fan impels me to give all new ARR albums a greater chance to hook me than I would any other recent offering. I must say that Rahman albums of late haven't reached out and grabbed the populace by their shirtcollars, but that's not to say the output has suffered. It has changed, altered, evolved. I still don't like the excessive rap-based trend in the songs, but to some extent the subject matter of these films have also been responsible.
I've also noticed that the first reaction of fans to any criticism is to get defensive and/or aggressive about it. It's hard to be unbiased - there's nothing wrong in having a slant towards it, but a good appreciator of anything should be able to work for himself what the limits of it are. I really find it irritating when "fans" get so possessive about their idols, who themselves are smart enough to understand what has gone wrong and are unwilling to lend an ear to any dissenter. Anu Malik is one person who carries a persecution complex around instead of reflecting on reality, these fans are no different according to me.
That slight tirade over. Coming to this album, I don't completely agree with it being labeled a "techno/trance" album - another generalization that will do it no good. There are six tracks, of which only one would probably a trance track (I'm no authority on these things). Fanaah is quite interesting in that though it is apparently set in a discotheque, it gets very philosophical and profound about love and has an extended sargam (is that what I can call it?) from the music director. It's very western and urban, and Vivek Oberoi & Ms. Kapoor would be quite suitable in it - you can already appreciate the wisdom of the casting. Fanaah is a cool Urdu word to be used here, and Rahman has expounded on its significance in interviews.
Dol Dol is more instrumental (the "voice" instrument included) than song. This album was supposed to be just a soundtrack for this originally songless film. This track fits easily into that mould.
SanDa Kozhi is sung by Madhushree (Naina Milaike), an interesting choice. Her diction is suspect to me, but I am confused since she did get some of the tough words right on some occasions and different on others. This is easily a trademark ARR song, and the folkish crooning by him in the middle is excellent, and in retrospect, well worth the album.
Goodbye NaNbaa is one of those that grew quietly from a negative view to an appreciative one. I liked the changes in tone and tempo, in particular the hushed singing of Sunita Sarathy. The male portions are crowded with a lot of percussions at times. The slow, jazzy portions towards the end fit into the structure of the song, I felt.
The beginning of Jana GaNa Mana heightens one's expectations, so the rest of the song was a letdown for me. This is a lyrical beauty and the mood set in the beginning embellishes them greatly, but somehow, I got the feeling of incompleteness overall.
I really dislike the Adnan Sami song - Nenjam Ellaam - for me it's a nothing song. After a while, here's an ARR song that I can't even listen to and disregard - it has no flavour in it for me. I really wish ARR would stop using people uncomfortable with singing in Tamil. There's a distinct labouring effort seen in their output that seems to cut into their aural expressions. Gone are the days when they used to be cute. Haven't heard SPB in ages.
Yuva for me was painful to hear for the first time. Except for Khudaa Haafiz and Kabhi Neem (both in parts), I found the others embarassing at times. The critical difference between the two versions are the lyrics. Clearly, the Tamil one came before, and Mehboob hasn't been able to fill in the Vairamuthu blanks. Some of the Hindi lyrics are so bad that they distract whatever flavour is available in the music. Vairamuthu on the other hand has done a marvellous job. Except for Goodbye NaNbaa where I felt the words were sometimes a little trite and too modern, the rest are great, especially the politically idealistic Jana GaNa ("Oh Rulers of the people's minds, think of them"), in exploring the mystical dimensions of love in Fanaah ("The body is the wick, love the flame") and the mollifying yet scolding words of SaNda Kozhi. The Hindi version of Jana GaNa Mana merely comes out as a weak lookalike of Mammaiya Kero (Arjun - R.D.Burman), just because of the lyrics.
I really wish Mani Ratnam would've gone ahead with his original convictions of using just a background score. To me, specific portions of most of the songs seem to be outstanding, but the rest of the pieces don't sustain it. I'm just speculating here, but could it be that that's how these started off life, and were later extended? I feel the album has ended up somewhere between a great background score and an average album, definitely by past standards. Perhaps the film (for a change) will heighten the experience of the songs. The fans will end up loving it, whether in parts or in totality. The Tamil lyrics are the biggest plus in AE, and can alter the perception of the tracks. I don't the masses are going to make a fuss about it, the album is different from Bollywoodian tastes for sure. Will now move my attention to watching some trademark Mani Ratnam [choreo|cinemato]graphy for these songs.