The Reinvention of Pakistani Rock

By Sonya Rehman

With the release of their second album, Raag Neela on December 15, 2006, Aaroh verified their ability to deliver the goods. Their sequel album is ripe rock.

Artist: Aaroh
Album: Raag Neela

aaroh.jpg

It is the rock band being heralded by insiders as a potential Junoon for the 21st century. Okay, so they may not be quite there yet but Aaroh are well on their way. Having reinvented themselves like few rock bands have, their style sets them apart. Aaroh make an effort, with not just their music but also their appearance that has changed significantly. However, with this CD its not just about the cover. Aaroh’s songs have always spoken volumes about the integrity of the band.

In September 2003, the release of Aaroh’s debut album, Sawal featured songs that happened to have a somewhat softer, more ‘romanticized rock’ slant.

Raag Neela however, seems to be quite the opposite. The antithesis if you may. Not that the sound and has taken a frivolous 360, rather, the elements of ‘rock’ seem more pronounced, more ‘defined’ and yet, carrying that distinct Aaroh signature/stamp with it.

The public generally buys a band’s sequel album with a bit of trepidation. Why you may ask? That’s because many second ‘follow-up’ albums usually tend to fall short by not
being as consistently good enough. You can’t blame them. A mediocre song, and even worse, a second-rate album, has the ability to forever tarnish a band’s reputation – putting it under tight scrutiny, giving the public at large to constantly bludgeon it with criticism.

The thing that strikes me most about Raag Neela is that Farooq has a potent command over his vocals. Not only does it happen to teeter off the edge into the classical terrain, but the ‘weighty softness’ of his vocal’s can be juxtaposed to Faisal Kapadia’s from Strings. But there is a difference. Farooq makes higher pitches look easy. This is evident in the album’s opening track ‘Pyaar Ka Jaal’ – a heated, rock ditty.
The music of ‘Ik Chah’ has a very strong ‘Alan Parsons Project’ feel, albeit mellower and not as psychedelic, rather, more expressive. It is not as melancholic as you would imagine and has a lovely relaxed tempo that is full of character.

Very late 70s classic rock, ‘Raag Neela’, by far, is a song that you can’t help stomping your feet to. It sounds almost reckless and slightly feral, like a high and jilted dirt truck driver speeding at 100 kilometers per h on a 50 zone highway. In fact the video to this song was extremely ‘hah-in-your-face-baby-stand-up-and-take-notice!’ Featuring Farooq, Khalid, Haider and Jason in rocker getups, rubbing shoulders with ditzy models against well thought out and colourful backgrounds. In one word, I’d describe the video as; fun. It carried that similar ‘Pappu Yaar’ (Junoon) visual frenzy that matched the pace of the song.

‘Meherbaan’, the album’s fifth song, is like the continuation of ‘Raag Neela’ as it has a similar ‘devil may care’ tone interspersed with funk-like rock. Not bad. ‘Gharoli’, a revamped cover track that was originally sung by Abida Parveen, goes with Aaroh’s new look and sound. This is the kind of music I somehow visualize the band to be playing in the future. It just fits the bill and they pull it off really well. On the other hand, ‘Jeet Lo’, came across as far too ‘cardboard dry cheesy’…maybe it had to do with the ennui of the lyrics? Nonetheless, Aaroh should steer clear from dullsville-pseudo-inspirational songs such as this one because it just does not sound convincing enough. Apart from that ‘Tu Hee Tu’ wasn’t such a great shake either, but then again some may like it and others not.

After hearing ‘Woh Jo Kehday’ you’re instantly reminded of Vital Sign’s ‘Yeh Shaam’. I’m not implying that they sound exactly alike, but both numbers have a similar melancholic depth, ‘Woh Jo Kehday’ being lighter in its overall tone.
As mentioned earlier, sequel albums are usually under heavy scrutiny by music listeners and critics alike. Has the band kept up its reputation with regard to music quality? Was the first debut album better than the second…or has the second proved more successful in its ratings? These are the questions that many of us tend to ask before purchasing album number two. It’s all about value for money you see.

Aaroh seems to have done a pretty decent job with Raag Neela. I wouldn’t gush about it, but I would commend it. Why? Because doing something different and taking risks always is more interesting than repetition. Farooq, along with Haider, Khalid and Jason, seem to have come a long way in preparing and reinventing themselves musically in the two years after the release of Sawal.

That is evident in songs like ‘Jo Ankhon Mein’, a lovely ballad that descends into a decent guitar solo – something which many bands can’t seem to carry off many times. The guitar solos in between the songs are almost as important as the lyrics… but what is more important is the way they ought to complement each other. At times, some songs that break out into the guitaring bit sound almost pretentious, pompous, out of place and seem to scream ‘Look Ma I can play the guitar!’

Aaroh is far more refined, humbler and clear-cut in this regard. The music is not overpowering or overdone; it flows, envelopes and yet gives its vocals prime importance. But there’s always room for improvement. For instance, apart from ‘Pyaar Ka Jaal’, Farooq does not delve into a higher pitch in the other fast-paced numbers. His voice has the ability to deliver powerful, throaty vocals but somehow seems to sound the same in a majority of the tracks featured on Raag Neela. Also, more defined eastern percussion would have gone well with Farooq’s vocal quality – it’s just the classical edge that his voice has which would have really given some songs that extra touch, call it the X-factor if you will.

Raag Neela, if it were a person, would be an individual with a serious case of bipolar disorder; eccentric, excitingly fun at the same time and terribly placid and low-key at others. Oscillating between classic rock, funk and a few odd mellow ballads thrown in for commercially viable measure, the album has been crafted out well. The reinvention that the band seems to have undergone – be it an exterior make-over and/or an internal shift, seems to suit them perfectly. What remains to be seen is whether the band will continuously be able to incorporate these changes that will aid in bringing out their best. But if their track record in anything to go by, they will probably do it. Raag Neela is a definite step up from Sawal.

Instep, The News

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