Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Once More/ Colonial Cousins

Genre: Indipop

Universal Music/ Rs 150

Rating: *** ½

Time is the healer, time moves on, Time don’t wait for anyone; You tell me you’ll be back, but that will take some time; I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m waiting, yeah, yeah…

AROUND 16 years ago, the Colonial Cousins sang these lines on ‘Krishna’, the masterpiece from their self-titled debut. The group, comprising Hariharan and Lesle Lewis, went on to release two more albums, The Way We Do It and Aatma, blending Indian and western elements in what was branded ‘vocal fusion’ or ‘eclectic Indipop’.

They took a long break from Hindi music thereafter and concentrated on individual projects and even Tamil films as a duo, though fans continued to sing ‘I’m waiting, I’m waiting’ in the hope that they’d return. A few months ago, Lesle released his solo Indipop album Tanha Sa Hoon (reviewed earlier in this blog) and now the Cousins are back after a 11-year hiatus, with a seven-song set called Once More.

Quite appropriately, they end the new album with ‘Radhe Govind Gopal’, a rejoinder to ‘Krishna’. After Hariharan renders a bhajan-styled line “Shree Radhe Govind Gopal tera pyaara naam hai,”  Lesle goes on to appeal to children to save the world they live in, as smooth guitars, a charming sitar and temple manjira play in the backdrop. Only, the definition of time changes from what we heard in ‘Krishna’. This time, the words are:

Times have changed, it ain’t so good; Everybody’s being misunderstood, misunderstood; Reach for your heart, search for the truth; We hide in disguise, losing our roots; Living in fear, living in fear

‘Radhe Govind Gopal’ is clearly one of the highlights of Once More. And while its style is very bhajan-pop, the other songs vary from north-eastern folk and hard rock-meets-Maharashtrian rhythms to ballads and tracks filled with classical wizardry. The lyrics credits are shared by Raajesh Johri, Kumaar and Lesle, and interestingly, the album uses English on only three songs, the emphasis being more on Hindi.

Of the songs, the opener ‘Aaiyo Re’, which uses north-east Indian folk elements, begins with a guitar-flute intro and then heralds the onset of the rains with the lines: Aaiyo re aaiyo saawan aaiyo re; rimhim baarishon se bheega hai jahaan; kaisa matwala dekho mausam jawaan aaiyo re.” Strangely, the word is pronounced ‘sawan’ initially and ‘saawan’ later.  Catchy Assamese back-up vocals lend an earthy element.

‘Ma Ma Re, Ma Ma Re’ is a racy and smartly done mix of clubby chants, classical passages and English pop vocals. A female back-up goes ‘A-aaha ha’ Hariharan sings a neat sargam stretch, and Lesle follows up with the line: “Show me the way to follow you to your heart, I only want to be around you now.” Typical Cousins mix, with Hari excelling here.

The Cousins try to repeat the formula on the third track ‘Janaab-e-Ali’, but this is the only number which falls flat, thanks mainly to senseless lyrics like “Somebody tell me kahaan hai janaab-e-aali; Aadat purani hai dil ko churaane waali.” The song does have a wonderful ‘tutti’ portion, where the shehnai, flute and clarinet are played together to create a unique sound. But later on, they try to fill in too many things ― the words ‘Chunari sambhaal baby’ and a high-pitched classical passage come in from nowhere, leading to a mess.

The next song ‘Kaise Samjhayein’ gets even louder, but this time, things are in control, as Maharasthrian lezhim beats are played energetically to distortion-filled hard rock guitars, with both singing in Hindi: “Saari saari raat jaage, jiya beqarar laage, iss dil ko kaise samjhayein.”

Just when you think the entire album will follow a similar pattern, things slow down with ‘Tak Dhina Dhin’, which has the wonderful lines: “Raaton mein taaron se baatein karenge, agar ambar se jhilmil sitaron kahenge, tujhe dekha, tujhe dekha, tere dil se jo pyaar hua.” A short female back-up and a stylish guitar solo add charm.

‘Sajna ve’, which talks of lost love, is a melodious treat, as the lines ‘Sajna ve, sajna ve, tere liye main toh jee raha hoon” are played to a nylon-string guitar backdrop. The vocals touch the high notes beautifully, especially the words ‘sapnon’, ‘ashkon’,’duniya’ and ‘tanha’. This and ‘Radhe Govind Gopal’ give the album a perfect ending.

Though the Cousins are pretty much back in form, a couple of areas could have been looked into. One is the order of the songs. While the album definitely has variety in terms of style, the faster numbers dominate the first half and the soulful ones come later. If one of the slower songs had been placed earlier, there would have been a better balance, tempo-wise.

Secondly, with four songs sung in Hindi, there are portions where both Hariharan and Lesle render similar passages or even the same lines one after the other. While their timbres aren’t exactly similar, they aren’t totally contrasting either. Leslie sings in his pop style, using certain words in a more western manner, and Hariharan is rooted in classical music, down to the exact microtones. For the trained ear, one of the voices would sound more polished and flexible than the other, especially on ‘Aaiyo Re’ and ‘Tak Dhina Dhin’.

Finally, the album cover makes no mention of the instrumentalists and back-up singers at all. A wide variety of musicians has been used, and some have played important roles in the songs. Though one would assume Lesle has played most of the guitars, one would definitely like to know who else has played or sung on the album.

The flaws apart, this is definitely a timely comeback. Obviously, this may not be in the same league as the debut album, which had an absolutely new sound, and remains one of the best-ever releases in Indipop. A band like the Colonial Cousins will always have a set formula, and the only way they can keep producing good music is through the strength and variety of their compositions. Largely, they succeed in Once More.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding



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