Friday, September 11, 2009

The music of Blue (A. R. Rahman)

Before we talk about the music, a note about how a review will be structured on the Drift. Bollywood music gets more sophisticated with each passing CD (well, a lot of it). It's passé to review songs - its more important to see if the composer has succeeded in developing a mood, a theme. I'll point out if there is one, how it's been implemented, use some songs as an example. There'll be segues to discuss vocal performances just because I like to do that. I'll try my best keep it short. Then I'll bail. Hope that works.

So what is A. R. Rahman trying to do on the Akshay Kumar, Lara Dutta starrer Blue? He creates an immersive, seductive sound. He combines elements of ambient, nu jazz and techno and overlays them over mid-tempo and DNB percussion. He uses primarily Western arrangements.

It allows him to create a sexy vibe with enough pace to indicate a propulsive movie. It's like watching eye candy, but with hooded eyes. It works quite well in my opinion (although if you dislike the songs, I won't be surprised).

Let's get that high profile Kylie Minogue song Chiggy Wiggy out of the way first, shall we? Rahman creates a standard issue low slung dance monster. Kylie's voice is a bit too thin to really kick the song into gear, but thankfully Sonu Niigaam is around to rescue the song with a bhangra bit. But in keeping with the vibe of the score, Rahman keys even this down - his choice of a softer voice like Sonu being particularly indicative of his intentions.

Aaj Dil Gustakh Hai is along the same lines, but this time Rahman gambles with Shreya Ghoshal - who surprised me by delivering in spades. Aaj Dil is a rather traipsy song in Nu Jazz clothing. Periodically Rahman shows the ability that makes him special - instead of constructing tight tunes (like he did on his overrated - by his standards - Slumdog Millionnaire soundtrack) he allows the music breathe and develop. In doing so, he creates hugely interesting changes of pace and diversions. The song feels mature and the melody feels lasting.

Where Rahman falls short is in infusing his songs with a sense of danger. It's not like he doesn't try. He uses several off-kilter chants in his songs - I suppose they are meant to provide a sense of disjointedness that might be interpreted as peril. On the Blue Theme (Blaaze, Sonu Kakkar, Neha Kakkar, Jaspreet Singh, Dilshad, Raqeeb Alam) he attempts this trick accompanied by a grinding guitar. It falls short - which isn't to say that the song still isn't fun to listen to.

In the simmering Soul of Rehnuma (Sonu Niigam, Shreya Ghoshal) he comes close to pulling a dangerous vibe off. He adds a thick guitar riff over sumptuous string arrangements. Because Rahman's ideas are bold and result in catchy music, you more than forgive this shortcoming.

Something interesting happens on the bubbly Yaar Mila Tha. Rahman starts the song with R&B stylings. He then brings in Udit Narayan and Madhushree, instructs them to sing in Hindustani notes and then surrounds them with 80s Bollywood musical arrangements. Later he tweaks the vocals - he has Udit sing a near-rap and Madhushree coo around a bit. It elevates what could have been a tiresome track.

There are two more tracks on this CD: Fikrana (Vijay Prakash, Shreya Ghoshal) and Bhoola Tujhe (Rashid Ali). You should explore those using the links I've provided.

You can listen to the Blue soundtrack on


musical said...

Gotta' check this one out-must be hot else you wouldn't be reviewing this :).

So, if you had to pick one song in the movie and one single word to describe the feel of the album what would that be?

Unknown said...

Usually the theme song serves that purpose :) Why don't they start every CD with it, I'll never understand. I suppose the big single needs to be first - but India is not a singles driven music market anyway.

Tanvi said...

I didn'r appreciate the soundtrack of Blue! Doesn't catch my fancy or keep me hooked to listen further! :( Disappointed!

Unknown said...

Tanvi, I'm not surprised. Because it is so Electronica in nature - it has the potential to polarize listeners.

Shambhavi said...

You are absolutely right! I loved the is very different and carries a theme thruout its songs.
And going by the songs, am pretty sure Rahman would have had a blast in composing them! Esp Blue Theme Song - he simply plays with the instruments.

Anonymous said...

that's it this morning's run I got to check this out, will update if i ran faster or walked!!

Anonymous said...

I think most songs in this album are very ARR like.. Chiggy Wiggy is the catchy singled out winner. Theme songs was really interesting, especially since it an instrumental rather than a lyrical song, but very typical of ARR. All in all the album was not exciting..

Amrita said...

It's like Rahman created an album out of bits and pieces left over from other experiments. The Blue Theme was surprisingly catchy for a track that I was sure would grate on my nerves; Rehnuma sounded like it belonged on a late 90s Bond flick (in a good way), Bhool Tujhe was an escapee from the Delhi 6 album, Fikraana was meh, Yaar Mila Tha started out really interesting and then the second verse kicks in and the lyrics are just so mind-bogglingly awful that it immediately pulled me back. Aaj Dil sounded pretty middlebrow Rahman and I refuse to talk about a song called Chiggy Wiggy. So I'm in this weird position where the standout track for me is the Blue Theme.

woot said...

Loved Rehnuma, Aaj Dil and Bhoola Tujhe. Chiggy Wiggy hmm just liked the intro bit and then the chorus just seemed really cheesy. The theme song in my opinion is pretty good quite like the Delhi 6 song . It erves its purpose in my opinion ! cheers

Unknown said...

Amrita, you raise a point worth discussing. A lot of times songs like Chiggy Wiggy (which I don't have a problem with strangely enough) are more the producers choice than the music director. So for the music director, its just bills that have to be paid. I do note you haven't outright held ARR responsible - just stated your dislike.

But the music industry is replete with stories of how artistes do great work and their weakest stuff makes it to the light of day because its the most mainstream. The theme song for this show is a really good example of this selection process. Two really good ones had to be left on the floor before this nutty ditty made the cut because it had best recognition value.

Amrita said...

Well, it's a bit complicated. On the one hand, I feel if AR Rahman can't put his foot down, who the hell can? But then I also get the point that filmmaking is a collaborative process and the music director can't hold everyone else to ransom. So I get your point. Plus, Rahman doesn't work well with everybody.

Also, anyone who's familiar with Kylie's work (I can feel you judging me!) would recognize the beginning of the track as either her work or else it's something rahman created to fit her image.

BUT! The bhangra part is pretty much "add water and mix" type bhangra. The disinterest in that composition is stark compared to the rest of them in which you get the feeling he's at least trying.

I don't blame him for the failure of Yaar Mila Tha, for example, because it's not his fault the lyricist turned out to have an early 90s hangover. But Chiggy Wiggy? Phooey.

PS - I read a review of Delhi 6 in The Hollywood Reporter in which the reviewer said the music wasn't up to Rahman's usual standard!!!!! Jai Ho's win now makes perfect sense to me.

Unknown said...

I rather enjoyed Sonu's part in Chiggy - particularly in the end when he goes Cheegee Weegee.

I'm actually a bit of a Kylie fan too :). But its always been the case that she's not a singer - more a star. Her producers work around that. Her songs sound great. ARR seems to have gotten a bit lost with her - especially when he gave her that Indian note to warble through.

Tanvi said...

Can I just say that I do like the title track of Blue A LOT :o)

woot said...

Yes the title track does give a sense of rythym like the Delhi 6 title track which had a French + rock kinda them song. Very adrenaline rushing song. In the matters of Chiggy Wiggy, when I first heard it I kinda cringed. But then I realised it suits Kylie, since Rahman created something that suits what she usually is capable of while he cleverly interweaves the bhangra routine for Sonu -- and the results are there before you. It definitely suits Akshay on screen !

stargirl_archie said...

Yes the title track does give a sense of rythym like the Delhi 6 title track which had a French + rock kinda them song. Very adrenaline rushing song. In the matters of Chiggy Wiggy, when I first heard it I kinda cringed. But then I realised it suits Kylie, since Rahman created something that suits what she usually is capable of while he cleverly interweaves the bhangra routine for Sonu -- and the results are there before you. It definitely suits Akshay on screen !

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