In this Twitter era, populated by ADD-ed twits, everything either “sucks” or “rocks.” There’s no median, no room for the “hmmm… not bad… interesting.” Reactions to the Jab Tak Hai Jaan soundtrack led me to believe that that was AR Rahman’s worst ever album, and it was nothing of the sort. Was it a middling effort? A disappointment? Sure. But how do we get from there to “worst”? And now, apparently, the Kadal soundtrack is his “best” in [insert appropriately hyperbolic time frame]. Why this constant need to measure, rate, evaluate music on a continuum that apparently has only the levels “1” and “10”?
That said, Kadal is a very good album. Except for Magudi magudi, which I’m not sure what to make of, every other song is a keeper in some sense. If the slightly generic Chithirai nela took me back to early-1990s Rahman — the ambient sounds surround you like a cloud on a misty mountaintop, and Vijay Yesudas’s voice is reminiscent of his father’s, circa Pachai kiligal — then Adiye is a reminder that no one arranges harmonies better than this composer. Harmonies aren’t just about clean voices and coordination but also the recording, the spotlessness of which should blow away the murk around commingling pitches — the results are stunning. Why don’t our composers dip into gospel music more often? That surge of emotion is so suited to our drama and for staging song sequences. It’s a little mystifying that the last (and perhaps first ever) gospel-themed film song was Tu aashiqui hai in Vishal-Shekhar’s magnificent soundtrack for Jhankaar Beats, all way back in 2003.
The spare softer songs — Moongil thottam, Nenjukkulle — are lovely, evoking oceans of feeling, and as for Elay keechan, I have to say that, the addictive chorus apart, the Johnny Cash-meets-Mustafa-meets-Tere bina design is more arresting than the song itself, whose stanzas don’t quite live up to that exuberant opening. The song of the album, for me so far, is Anbin vaasale, where Haricharan follows up his astounding rendition in Aiyaiyaiyo aanandhame (Kumki) with a blow-the-rafters-off vocal performance. The number, filled with thrilling choruses and tolling bells, feels like the musicalisation of a tsunami that struck with an Old Testament God’s fury and eventually ebbed away into calm little tide pools. If that church is still standing, it’s a miracle.
PS: Is there anything as gooseflesh-inducing as a scale or upward octave shift in a dramatically charged composition? Again, a mystery why this technique doesn’t find more favour with our composers. Then again, if we heard it too much, we’d be complaining about its ubiquity.
PPS: Whether you believe in intelligent design or think we are just accidental spillovers from a cauldron of primordial soup, nothing can make you feel the presence of a higher power like a song can. Listen, again, to Tu aashiqui hai – the divinity that the lyrics refer to could be that of music itself.