Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

CD review/ Superheavy


Superheavy/ Superheavy

Rock, multi-genre/ Universal Music/ Rs 395

Rating: ****

AFTER finding it super-weird on first hearing, and not being too impressed on the second and third listens, I finally began to enjoy the self-titled album of the group Superheavy. In fact, now it’s on repeat mode, and each time I hear it, I find something new.

Though the band’s name makes it sound pretty much like a heavy metal group with some superheavy vocals, superheavier guitars and superheaviest drums, the truth is that it’s not. In fact, it’s a rather unique combination of rock, reggae, soul, dancehall, ambient music, hip-hop and Bollywoodism. Which is perfectly understandable given the line-up of the Rolling Stones dude Mick Jagger, reggae singer Damian Marley, soul sensation Joss Stone (all on vocals), Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame on guitar and India’s very own A R Rahman on piano and synthesiser.

What makes Superheavy different from all the other supergroups we’ve heard? To understand that, let’s go back in time.

In rock history, ‘supergroup’ is a term that one comes across quite often. Quite simply, it refers to a band which consists of artistes who have already been famous in their respective specialities.

To begin with, one thinks of groups like Cream (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker), CSNY (David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young), Blind Faith (Clapton, Baker, Steve Winwood, Rick Grech) and the Travelling Wilburys (George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne). Back in 1968, there was also this one-time instance of the Beatles’ John Lennon, Clapton, the Stones’ Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience forming The Dirty Mac for the TV show The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus.

There are quite a few cases, with the trend continuing through the ’90s and 2000s. Examples are Temple Of The Dog (which was basically a Pearl Jam meets Soundgarden outfit), Audioslave (Rage Against The Machine members with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell),  Slash’s Snakepit (fronted by Slash of Guns N ’Roses), the Foo Fighters (formed by Nirvana’s Dave Grohl), Velvet Revolver (also featuring Slash), Chickenfoot (featuring Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani), the Dead Weather (with Jack White of the White Stripes) and Them Crooked Vultures (which got Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones back in action).

All these groups have, however, primarily been rock supergroups, in that all members have essentially been rock musicians playing proper rock music. This is where Superheavy is different.

By blending various genres smoothly and seamlessly, Jagger & Co gives us a cocktail that’s quite heady in its own way. A song starts off with a reggae beat, Stonesy rock vocals follow, a soul singing stretch enters, a rock electric guitar takes over, bhangra-pop comes in, some dance beats are added here and there, a hip-hop groove comes in from nowhere, back to reggae or rock or soul or bhangra. Various permutations and combinations of them.

Confusing? Well, very confusing on the first few listens. But as I said earlier, the sound grows.  Slowly, but surely.

The title song, for instance, starts off with a typical reggae bit, after which Jagger and Stone do their bit, before Rahman sings an Indian phrase. The piece has got a catchy hook, and is probably the most commercial of the lot. ‘Unbelievable’ and ‘Miracle Worker’ continue in the reggae-based space.

Two songs, co-written by Rahman, have an Indian theme. ‘Satyameva Jayate’ begins with an Indian chant, but is also filled with some reggae, bhangra-pop-meets-Sufi-influenced and soul vocals, besides a sizzling lead guitar. The bonus track ‘Mahiya’ has a Hindi film flavour, besides doses of the other genres.

My personal favourites, however, are the ones in which Jagger takes centre-stage. ‘One Day One Night’ and ‘Never Gonna Change’ see him in Stones-like balladsy form, with the former having a marvellous keyboard stretch by Rahman. For rocksier tastes, ‘I Can’t Take It No More’ kicks off with a perfect hard rock riff, with Jagger taking a page from his Stones book.

On the more pop side, ‘World Keeps Turning’ is more of a Joss Stone gem, whereas Rahman effectively uses the fingerboard on ‘Beautiful People’, which also has a funky guitar line from Stewart.

Some of the numbers don’t feature Rahman, but are dazzling in their own right.  Marley is in top form on ‘Rock Me Gently’, and ‘I Don’t Mind’ has some amazing vocal interaction between Jagger, Stone and Marley. ‘Energy’ is a foot-tapping synth-driven reggae-rock-dance piece which pumps up the mood in the middle of the album.

To be sure, one may require a bit of patience — in fact, a lot of it — to develop a taste for this music. No point starting off thinking it will be too much of a Stones sound — or a Rahman sound, for that matter.

But therein lies its beauty. The album ‘Superheavy’ may not be an all-time classic, but it does set a trend for this kind of multi-genre sound. In an age when musical tastes are becoming more and more diverse and eclectic, this is a welcome effort.

 

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

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