Music Review: ’99 Songs’

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With ’99 Songs’ AR Rahman once again demonstrates that his ability to create wholesome great music has not had its day yet. What he doesn’t do is follow in the commercial music path and the trend which is where perhaps the songs of this album might face a challenge appealing to masses.

BizAsia Rating

3.5

The amazing A R Rahman makes his debut as a writer and producer with his forthcoming film called ’99 Songs’. The writing comes from perhaps what seems to be partly his own music journey to stardom. This romantic story about a striving young musician whose life centres around his love for music and his true love stars newcomers Ehan Bhat and Edilsy Vargas in the lead roles with debutant director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy. This project has many first and debuts in various roles but one thing that is good ol is music. With Rahman at the centre of this project and with a title of ’99 Songs’ one expects some terrific, deep, soulful songs that Rahman has made his career of. The whole set of emotions in the film’s trailer calls for a whole set of songs to go with it in various genres and styles that make this album worthy of all the attention. Navneet Virk is the principal lyricist on the soundtrack with a number of other artists collaborating to put this soundtrack together. One can expect a really big sound from this album considering Rahman’s ability to leave no stone unturned to get it right and conduct a huge orchestra.

The leading song O Aashiqa is a brilliant number! The melody is so strong that after a couple of listens the melody just lingers deep inside! That is the true identity of a Rahman song where the music makes a deep impact on the listener and the piece of music stays around in the mind while the lyrics and vocals touch the heart. The orchestration is a piece of genius with some amazing guitar work, percussions by the amazing Sivamani build the song taking to a really high crescendo that it is worth a listen on really good speakers to really get the true effect of its music. Lyrics by Virk are very minimalistic using just a few words but they have a deep meaning about living a selfless life. The idea of each para of four lines is worth slowing down and absorbing the thought and message of it. Ki sabke Khuda se bas apni duaa Ye kaisi duaa ki, o jogiya is one of many brilliant ideas this song puts forward that is that the world needs in today’s turbulent times. Shashwat Singh’s vocals bring forth the soul of this song. His note perfect delivery is deep and so intricate for the soft start and goes up to such high pitch with effortless precision that it is enjoyable to listen to him. If this was a romantic song this would be perhaps the best song of the year but being a generic life genre holds it a little back. Nonetheless this is an acoustic masterpiece. 4.5/5

Sofia is a soft romantic number that starts off with a nice poetry and goes into a character build of the female lead of the movie. Virk’s lyrics try to summarise all the happiness and love she brings but somehow the words don’t flow that smoothly as they should for a romantic song to work. Shashwat Singh leads the vocals here again and he delivers a style that is a mix of Arijit Singh and Jubin Nautiyal with a lot more happy vibe to his delivery. The music is tailored in a jazz – pop style that gives the song happy positive vibes but it lacks the bubbliness that the lyrics talk about. Although the instrumentation is good initially, the arrangement changes to a progressive faster part that seems a bit disconnected and thus forced. Overall this song doesn’t engage even though with some good musicality to it. 3/5

Raftaar collaborates with Virk on the lyrics and Shashwat Singh on the vocals for the next song Nayi Nayi. This is another positive life song about new dreams and new journeys every day in life. The setting is perhaps a college stage performance for this song going by its soft rock composition, upbeat musical vibes and crowd participation sounds added in. The music has a number of layers with some great guitar and keyboard solos leading to a fab drum solo at the end. The beginning with key synths is very interesting that is easy to bob around with and join the singer. Additional instruments like Tabla also give it a different live performance touch. The lyrics are fun while being inspiring at the same time but a strong hook that is catchy. It is good to hear Shashwat Singh in a different vocal avatar that the earlier two songs even though there is not as much vocal brilliance here to showcase. But he does get the listener involved in this public participation song. Overall the song is decent but seems to be missing an edge to make a strong impact. 3.5/5

Shashaa Tirupati joins Armaan Malik on Humnawaa to the lyrics of Dilshad Shabbir Shaikh and Abhay Jodhpurkar. The song has a more English classical structure of it which is interesting to listen to going on a Bollywood romantic song. The continuous piano is strikingly good and quite in your face. Trust Rahman to do something different and this is one of those songs with no drums or beat. Bass guitar delivers the lower frequency on this song while the piano completely rules the music on this song. The classical arrangement sounds haphazard but after a few listens one with a musical ear can appreciate the brilliance of it as it is layered with the vocals. The two elements seem non-linear and that is what takes time to connect with. Lyrics are average but must have been quite a challenge to work with considering the stroppy arrangement. Malik leads the vocals and delivers it like a champ while Tirupati has more of a backing vocalist role here. His vocals are strong and soft in parts but the range is amazing. It would have been good to hear a few lines from the female lead too to add more character to the song and feels like a miss. Overall this song would feel weird to a normal commercial listener but to a Rahman fan such experiments are what define him. 3.5/5 for Rahman’s composition creativity.

It’s good to hear Arijit Singh join Rahman on Jwalamukhi next. His vocals are perfect as always and his modern delivery is pretty cool and true to his singing style. He is effortless in his highs and lows and simply spell-bounding in parts. This seems like a stage performance song in the film and Arijit Singh delivers it like a true performer with a vocal twists and turns. The music is a bit radical here which is great as you don’t want to hear the regular stuff from Rahman. His repertoire of instruments in this song is difficult to sum up but they have all been programmed perfectly to a technical precision. There is whole load of depth with a very deep bass throughout and the synth bits give it that high performance moments that Arijit Singh rides on. The musical arrangement is quite simple which helps lyrics flow better and the choice of words for this aggressive romantic song are good in parts even though the song hinges strongly on the repetition of the title jwalamukhi. This is a good addition for a movie about a performing singer and puts the listener in that space. 4/5

Shashaa Tirupati can finally be heard in what works perfectly for her vocal style on the song Soja Soja. A soft acoustic style vocal opens this seemingly romantic number with Hindi and English lyrics and quickly turns into a jazz cabaret song. The jazz bass, jazz drums and killer piano dominate the music of this song that advances into multiples levels of tempo making this a very different Bollywood jazz song. The arrangement is so complex that it is hard to even figure a musical pattern here and thus truly the work of a musical genius of Rahman’s calibre. Virk’s lyrics seem lacking here and fail to impress. Even though the music is killer, lyrics clearly seem to have a hard time to keep up with it. There is a lot of repetition but there is a lot of oomph and character styling in the words written here. But Tirupati is one who is able to keep up with the music and is thrilling to listen to as she goes from whispering acoustic vocals to a diva performer firing vocal guns. This is a very different song and if it had catchy lyrics it would be a top-notch song. 3.5/5 for its composition and vocals.

The soundtrack also has a religious song in the form of Sai Shirdi Sai. Rahman has delivered magical success with his worship songs for various religions and this one is for Sai Baba followers. Bela Shende and Rahman lead the vocals here with a lot of depth and emotion to their delivery. Shende is classically perfect in her renditions while being soulful and pure. Musically the arrangement is simple which works well for the song while the instrumentation is well structured with great classical styling using cymbals, flutes and a gorgeously played Tabla percussions throughout. The chorus ensemble adds a lot of range to the song giving it a great build up. Munna Shaukat and Virk’s lyrics are pious and have a trajectory that help the song overall have a good elevation towards the higher power in the sky. The chorus is the strongest with all its repetition of the name of the deity but the rest of the lyrics are not that easy to sing along to and that is the difference between this song and all of Rahman’s big hit religious numbers. This is still a good effort dedicated to the Shirdi wale Sai Baba. 3/5

Shashwat Singh is back with Teri Nazar next which is a sad romantic number. The vocals are nice and tons of reverb on it almost making him sound totally different on this song. There is a nice range to the vocal and he delivers it with good control. The music is left to be simple with lot of space in the aural domain to give it an airy vibe. The use of piano, chimes, bass guitar and duff percussions give it a nice depth but it almost lands up sounding like a inspired piece from Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh musical piece of the great R.D. Burman on ‘1942: A Love Story’ (1994). The lyrics by Virk and Shaikh are yet again average and fail to stand out. They almost land up sounding like many other Bollywood songs with a standard message of separation from the lover. Perhaps one of the songs that can be missed on this album. 2.5/5.

Jwalamukhi (Female Version) features a really strong vocal by Poorvi Koutish who gives it a high pitched modern rock touch. Her vocal consistency at the high end while the depth in her low parts is worth a listen. Shashwat Singh does supporting vocals on the chorus and he is brilliant at that too. Rahman flips the composition around compared to the original taking the music here a notch higher as if this is a climax song. The vocal ensemble is more prominent here than the music but this instrumentation is more intricate with more orchestration added for the climatic effect, like the string quartet with its school of violinists is a nice touch to this version. Overall the vocals are real hero here kudos to both the singers for delivering it perfectly while standing out from the Arijit Singh version. 3.5/5

Anuradha Sriram, Alka Yagnik, Shweta Mohan deliver the classically sound Gori Godh Bhari next. Yagnik is the real lead and she is not perfect with her sweet melodic vocal heard after a long-long time. The Hindustani classical delivery by al the singers is really nice to listen to. Rahman always delivers authentic classical song when the lyrics demand it and this song is a good example of it. His choice of instruments is great with a Sitar, Flutes and Shennai leading the song to a beautiful Tabla base. The Sitar solo is a must listen and is really refreshing to hear that instrument on a commercial Bollywood album. The lyrics by Virk almost sound like folk lyrics written for a Radha- Krishna love moment. The flow is pretty amazing here and the style of this song to write for is a far departure from the rest of the album. This is a great song to showcase what Virk is truly capable of writing pop to classical songs. Overall this song is for a situational piece in the movie but adds a different persona to the album. It is nice produced even though it is not the typical commercial track for radio or TV plays. 3.5/5

Shende comes back to lead O Mera Chand that is a beautiful mother’s lullaby song. It’s soft musicality with acoustic guitar and flute is so nice to listen to and instantly takes one to their childhood. The vocal is really lovely and almost too easy to picture the mother – child sequence. The heart melting voice of Shende has a nice classical touch to it with a consistent low delivery that one can really close their eyes and fall asleep to this song. Lyrics are really nice here with great choice of words to create a great lori. The words flow really well as a poetry and bring a mother’s deep love alive. Yet again a great song to listen to and of a totally different genre and style to add more good music to this album. 3.5/5

Sarthak Kalyani and Swagat Rathod come together for Veere Kadh De next which is a Punjabi dance number with a difference. The hardcore music takes it from modern Bhangra, to deep Hip-Hop and tech house genres mixed in. Rahman goes a little overboard here and it almost sounds a little too much. Being a dance number it is loud but there is too much going on for it to really work as a party number. It sounds like an experiment of blending music samples and styles together. The rap is pretty cool and interesting to listen to being well written by Shiv and Virk. There is a good message in there about life and friendship but the music kills the lyrics and vocals in some ways. The arrangement is quite complex for the music and vocals to work but the singers do tackle it well. If the music was a little more streamlined then this could be a good song for the masses to enjoy but this song is a little over-the-top in its current form. 2.5/5

The Voice Without Words is a background music track and feature the vocals of Poorvi Koutish doing a spoken word style of delivery. The song is all with English lyrics with only a few lines repeated for dramatic effect. The real focus and star of the track is its music. There are number of different elements and stages in the composition from singular sound effects to soft ambient instrument vibes. Even though it is just a background piece, Rahman has put in some good effort to make this unique in its sound. There are some really interesting bits of sounds that give it a buoyant ambience of the mountains and rivers that make it really calming to listen to. Nice piece of music to relax to but that is pretty much it for this track. 3/5

Finally the instrumental theme of the album makes its appearance as the last track of the album. Called The Oracle it is lead by a really nice sounding piano with a complete violin orchestra. The sound is wholesome and with great amount of detailing in its music. The composition is beautiful and the piano solo is just sensational. The precision, speed and progression this musical piece achieves is something worth a listen. One really needs to listen to this a few times to really appreciate the musical talent of Rahman and his musicians. This track without any lyrics and vocals is a masterpiece and of the calibre of any international opera or orchestra one would hear around the world. 4/5

FINAL WORD
It is always a pleasure to listen to a Rahman album. One can truly learn to appreciate musical talent when one drowns in the aural domain that Rahman creates around the listener. He really takes one on a journey, almost telling a story with the music itself. With ’99 Songs’ he once again demonstrates that his ability to create wholesome great music has not had its day yet. Be it his ability to launch new singers or bring old talent back into the limelight, he can do everything in style. His orchestration is exquisite and his compositions are extremely complex with so much going on that one can simply be in awe of his gift to bring such music alive for everyone to enjoy. What he doesn’t do is follow in the commercial music path and follow the trend which is where perhaps the songs of this album might face a challenge appealing to masses. But if is just for the discerning listener then this is worth a listen. O Aashiqa and Jwalamukhi are the two songs that fit the mass appeal tags as they are truly good songs with great vocals and lyrics while everything else is mediocre. There is a lot of variety of genres on the soundtrack but everything is just generally good to listen to, not great. Being a Rahman find, Shashwat Singh makes a mark with this album as a great vocalist while Navneet Virk is a bit inconsistent on the lyrics with some really good ones and some avoidable ones. Overall this soundtrack is truly an album in every sense with a theme that flows from one song to the next. It’s not Rahman’s best work but it is great to listen to from all musical aspects.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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