Saturday, September 26, 2009

Listening 'Couples Retreat'



‘Couples Retreat’ is in a way the true entry of A.R.Rahman into Hollywood. He did some stage musicals, there were some Hollywood movies which used his Indian songs, he was a co-composer in ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ and also it was a movie by an Indian Director, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was never meant to be such a huge success and even A.R.Rahman didn’t believe it was his ‘Ticket to Hollywood’ while working on that movie and moreover it was a movie set in India. But with ‘Couples Retreat’ is none of the above. The world knows who A.R.Rahman is and they expect him to go ‘Jai Ho’ again. Has he?

‘Sajna’ is a breezy romantic ballad done on a template ripped straight out of ‘Dreams on Fire’ (a gem which is yet to get its due) with simple lyrics and a catchy Hindi hook phrase ‘Sajna Re’. Except for that hook, the melody of song sounds simple and too much worked upon as they have tried hard to fit in lyrics for Rahman’s tune. It gets better with vocal harmony countering the main melody and is truly elevated at the end with a soulful string section smoothing the rough edges of the melody. But overall, this song is a very underwhelming start to the soundtrack.

But wait, a full instrumental version of the song comes up in ‘Tour to the Villas’. The melody of the phrase ‘Sajna Re’ is almost the main theme of the movie. The sweeping grandeur of this theme as played on full throttled string section begins the track ‘Tour to the Villas’. I can imagine ‘Tour to the Villa’ being played when the couples enter the ‘Eden Resort’ in an Island and take a tour around the resort checking out what is in store for them. The music just follows them as they move through various sections. The track shifts from the main melody to another beautiful melody played on ‘Erhu’ (a Chinese Spa in the resort or a mediation or Yoga centre??), and to more ambient, soundscape music filled with ethnic percussions and exotic instruments that effectively puts the listeners right in the middle of the mood and space that it wants to create.

There is another main theme in the movie which first appears in the track ‘Jason and Cynitia Suite’. It is a simple, soothing melody oozing romanticism. The melody is introduced in the very beginning on a guitar solo, and then it turns into a guitar concerto with strings joining in and replying to the guitar phrase by phrase. The melody slowly ascends up and turns into a full throttled orchestral piece proving that A.R.Rahman is easily capable of doing a very conventional Hollywood movie score. It moves up, up and up until there is nowhere to go, takes a breath, and turns to the ‘Sajna Re’ theme. A serene Santoor tickles and a pleasing atmospheric melody on velvety flute join the ‘Sajna Re’ melody on soft strings gently dancing in the air. Aah! BLISS.

The ‘Sajna Re’ theme again appears exquisitely in the track ‘The Waterfalls’, which one can easily imagine is for when the couple is watching a beautiful waterfalls and gets into a romantic mood. And for the romance Rahman brings in the ‘Jason and Cynitia Theme’ for a brief moment towards the end.

Having played the theme enough with the orchestra, it is time for ‘Jason and Cynitia Theme’ to travel on solo instruments. To further reveal its yet uncorked beauty, the theme is played on quietening Piano, mellifluous Oboe (sounds divine in this avatar), aching cello and all carried as a one whole by a soft bed of supporting strings in ‘Jason and Cynitia Piano Theme’.

‘Kuru Kuru Kan’ with its zing-swing rhythm is instantly addictive, the shakers keeps our head shaking with the melody and Rahman gently whispers the melody laced over cute and simple Tamizh lyrics. The language isn’t a problem here, as the melody and the ambient orchestration beautifully sprinkles the romance in the air. That whistle melody is the coolest thing I have heard in a while. And when you expect the song to slowly fade over, the mood is further enhanced as Rahman introduces a twist to the song with a layer of soulful strings soaring over the melody.

Clearly ‘Shark’ theme is going to play out when Vince Vaughn is thrown into the sea surrounded by Sharks. It is a very dramatic piece predominantly on strings playing a very Indian melody. A short phrase repeating on strings forming a chaotic harmony for the Sharks approaching, biting and reaching and Vince’s attempt to escape. It comes to a grand halt as it finally bites Vince Vaughn and Rahman’s cry follows sympathising what this guy has just gone through. From those visuals in the trailer, it is easy to imagine how fitting this music would be for that situation.

As you can see in the trailer of the movie, ‘Marcel’ is an Asian, and in one of the shots in the trailer the second item in the Itinerary is titled ‘Dr.Marcel’s Activity’, and I guess ‘Meeting Marcel’ track plays out in the scenes related to that. That explains why the music sounds totally Asian. Filled with deep windy flutes, Indian chants and drums, dramatic strings it is hard to predict what happens on screen, but as a standalone track it is a soothing transcending meditational music. On the same lines, ‘Intervention’ is a serious and a deeply spiritual music with beautifully written harmony of strings.

‘Animal Spirits’ is an eclectic piece and a glittering gem of a track. Strangely, it starts with the same melody and Rahman’s vocals that begins the track ‘Intervention’. The track keeps changing its colour, flavour, genre but all bound together for one purpose – Creating a heavenly aural ambience. Heavenly, is how I felt when the track stops its rhythm and beats and a sitar begins to a relaxing start with ‘Sajna Re’ slowly fading in on soft strings. Another twist ends the track with the most euphoric version of the ‘Sajna Re’ theme.

Now, wait, wasn’t this soundtrack meant for a ‘Romantic Comedy’, but so far we heard mostly serious and romantic music, where is the comedy?

It is obvious that a comedy need not have a comic music always. I guess here the comedy comedy is out of the people who are put in serious situations. For the victims of comedy, it is a serious moment. So, the music should be as serious as the people who are put in the situation so that the people outside can feel them genuinely funny.

Rahman uses staccatos and pizzicatos to its maximum in the track ‘Itinerary’. It is for the scene in which the couples get a list of tasks that they have to complete in this package. The whole track is highly dependent on the visual proceedings but for sure a very interestingly orchestrated piece with varied instruments. Having seen the visuals, ‘Undress’ could be the funniest track of the soundtrack - think of English men reluctantly undressing accompanied by Indian strings (a lingering Tanpura throughout) and percussions (Ghatam in this case). The music slowly builds up as each man undress one after the other and comes to a grinding halt with a blow when it comes to undressing the black man who says he is not wearing the inners.

In ‘Salvadore’, Spanish flamenco meets Indian Taraana and the very thought of such a combination is intriguing and Rahman pulls of it brilliantly with ample support from the talented Kailash Kher. I can’t really imagine where this music would fit it but it could be for that guy (whose name could be Salvadore) who comes to teach ‘Yoga’ to the couples in a hilarious scene. ‘NaNa’ is a true-to-genre hippy-peppy beach party dance song in the soundtrack. The non-stop rapping, the swing in the rhythm, the ever intruding trumpets all nicely put together to make an effective stress buster of a song. ‘Luau’ sprinkled with Spanish guitars is an impressive instrumental track with nice percussion arrangements (composed by John O’Brien).

‘Couples Retreat’ as a whole has something for everyone who comes to hear specific stuff from A.R.Rahman, but no ‘Jai Ho’ here and that is not a complaint. This soundtrack may not be spoken about like how every movie review spoke about ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ score, and it may not win any awards, but that is not the point. The music should fit the movie and some of it should get a life of its own outside and I am sure ‘Couples Retreat’ has got both.


Audio Clips from http://www.couplesretreatsoundtrack.com

41 comments:

pradeep said...

Its and ordinary soundtrack overall,for i should say from what it looks a very ordinary comedy.ARR tries to louden it up with too much variety and not so good audio mixing and orchestration.I'm wondering what's happened to this Edgy composer who comes up with surprises and beautiful sounds and themes for he goes making loud, dumb and masala music..??

Pianoman said...

It's a beautiful soundtrack lush wish global sounds and bright and clear arrangements. How Rahman has infused Indian sounds and styles is really beautiful, creating haunting interludes and touching melodies. The audio mixing and orchestration are absolutely first class and I'm totally celebrating a Rahman album that's artistic and acoustic. The music here is delicate, varied, intelligent and highly crafty, but also very fun in parts due to the comedy nature of the movie. I am just in awe of this great composer who continues to showcase his versatility as no composer has ever done before.

mr.weirdo!! said...

u forgot to mention the voice of afro in kuru kuru - its so similar to Rahman :)

Suresh Kumar said...

Pradeep and Pianoman - I can't stop wondering how same music could evoke such extremely opposite reaction

Mr.weirdo - I don't know who that is, to me it sounded like Rahman's voice

Pianoman said...

Suresh,

Surely you don't think that the music of CR is dumb, loud, massala music with bad orchestration and mixing and overall ordinary? Come on! How could anyone think that!

Suresh Kumar said...

Pianoman - I don't and that should be crystal clear from my write-up. To be frank, it is utter sutpidity to think like that, esp about the suond, the songs available now is 192kbps quality, we are yet to listen the tracks in CD quality..

Anonymous said...

Great review, although i felt that certain orchestral pieces had a typical hollywood touch and less of rahman's unique stamp. I have seen some clips and they seem to match them effectively. I guess the only improvement is to create a more unique style in his orchestral scores. Very similar to WOHE soundtrack.

John O Brien is the music supervisor for this film. Does it mean he tells Rahman at which part to compose and stuff?

Suresh Kumar said...

Anon - Thank you. I guess that hollywood touch was necessary to prove that Rahman can do even a conventional hollywood score.

But for a pure Hollywood Soundtrack, Rahman has mixed as much indian sounds as possible

Did you mean the clips from this site

http://www.collider.com/2009/09/25/7-movie-clips-from-couples-retreat-starring-vince-vaughn-jason-bateman-jon-favreau-kristin-davis-malin-akerman-and-kristen-bell/

I also saw them, the music works well with those scenes and some of my guesses i made in my write-up were correct..

I don't really know what is the job of a music supervisor in the film, so can't comment on the role of John O'Brien in this score..

Chandrasehar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Not about the indian sounds, i meant the unique stamp he has. Like even if you put a totally western score you can identify its whose. But someone can say this is a john williams or jerry goldsmith score.

Otherwise a very addictive soundtrack and they do match the clips effectively. Yup those are the clips.

From web definitions, they are like the main men who coordinate the work of the composer, editor and sound mixer.

Sureshkumar said...

Anonymous - But come on, Rahman has done very few hollywood scores to establish any stamp of his own there.

Even a WOHE score, people could easily mistake as something done by Tan Dun or some chinese composer.

Chandrasehar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hmmz, maybe i overexpected from Rahman, because give his talent i thought he would have a different orchestration style regarding a classical score from the others in the fray. Otherwise no complaints. :D

Chandrasehar said...

Ah finally, i can post in my own avatar. To add on to the review, did you notice his shark track? Most composers tend to go JW style(Jaws) when they get those situations but he sort of redefined the score in his own way. Like the initial part of the track when it really reworks the suspense magically. :D

Suresh Kumar said...

Anonymous (or chandrasehar??) - We must understand that when a composer works in Hollywood movies, he has more constraints than he has in Indian films. Here, hardly film directors know about Movie's background score, so composer can do anything that he wants to do. But there each and every piece has to convince so many people involved in the movie (Shekhar Kapur in his blog told, lots of great music pieces by Rahman were outright rejected by the producers of the movie 'Elizabeth: The Golden age'. Ofcourse there is so much that Rahman can do with classical scores, he did long back in 'Bombay Theme', the bells, the pure Indian flutes and violins over totally western classical orchestration, or take the instrumental of 'Khwaja mere khwaja', or the bass that was recorded louder than the whole orchestra in 'Jaage hain' from Guru.. It is not that he can't do it, but the movie's script should demand it and the people involved in the project should also be convinced by such experiments..

Suresh Kumar said...

Chandrasehar - Yeah. I did notice that. I guess that was done wantedly to sound totally different from 'Jaws' Theme but here the context is also somewhat different. In 'Jaws' it is really serious, you know that it could swallow the person, here you know that it is for fun..

Chandrasehar said...

I was "anonymous" earlier. Wow that explains the part about his style not being there. Looks like there is a more detailed hierarchy compared to here in hollywood. :O

Would be great to see what he can do if the restrictions are lesser. Hopefully a more creatively demanding movie is coming his way to really exploit his talent :D

DemonStar said...

There are indeed a lot of restrictions/specific instructions for composers working on Hollywood film scores. Rejected scores are also not that uncommon, a famous one being where Gabriel Yared's wonderful score to the 2004 film "Troy" which was rejected just because of some stupid comments by a test screening audience. James Horner's replacement score was good but anyone who has listened to Yared's promo can tell you what an amazing piece of work it was. I heard even John Williams had an early score of his rejected, though I've forgotten the name now.

In the light of that I think Rahman did a very good job on here. This certainly isn't another average rom-com score and was a delight to listen to.

Suresh Kumar said...

Demonstar - Very True. I read even the Howard Shore's score for 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy had to go through a lot of scrutiny. Some of the music cues were removed and replaced by sound effects because director felt the music was not right. And all of this after Howard Shore won Oscar for 'Fellowship of the Rings'.. So it is not how big you are, or how many awards you have won, when it comes to work, it is what the director and the producer want matters the most.

Fan said...

Suresh, you are not convincing about the part on the how the music, being so serious/romantic, would fit a comedy movie. I personally don't feel how some of the tracks would fit the scene, jaws, for eg. It would probably be a half-decent score for a serious scene but for a supposedly comedy scene? I doubt it. And, again, your write-up about how the score need not be comical doesn't convince me enough. Of course, unless we watch the movie we shouldn't comment.

Personally, being a Rahman fan, I feel that Rahman should have waited for a better opportunity to launch his career in Hollywood. A romantic comedy doesn't fit the bill for him.

Otherwise, the tracks are nice to hear. I read some of the posts above and a gentleman has written that the music is 'loud' and 'dumb'. Of course, it is his opinion but I don't agree with the loud part. Dumb could well be true if it doesn't fit the scene but unless you watch the movie, I don't know how you could pass that comment.

I loved "Animal Instincts" on the first listen itself. I was also puzzled at first at how it starts with the same melody as "Intervention" (which was good) but then totally changes. Shows the genius that Rahman is.

Finally, "kuru kuru". Thanks to Rahman for convincing the team to let a tamil song feature in the movie. His "swasame" featured in "Accidental Husband" but this is the first time a tamil song is written for a hollywood movie. Bravo Rahman!

Suresh Kumar said...

Fan - As you said, we can't comment until the music is heard with the visuals..

Rahman Fan said...

It is interesting to read all your comments, but personally I feel Rahman did very good job. This score once again proves how versatile he is. I just hope this doesn't go unnoticed in Hollywood because of type of movie and its content...

In one of the interview Rahman commented that he had an opportunity to work with John William's orchestra. Could it have been for Couples Retreat?

Suresh Kumar said...

Rahman Fan - There is no doubt Rahman did a very good job. But still some of them are skeptical about this kind of music fitting in a comedy and that to a hollywood comey.

And yes, it is for 'Couples Retreat' the Hollywood Symphony Orcestra was used.. here are the pics

http://www.scoringsessions.com/sessions/image/27101/dsc_0502.jpg&admin=admin

Rahman Fan said...

Well, I am not too worried about it. Rahman has composed for more than 200 movies/ad jingles spanning different genres and languages. I think the guy knows what he is doing. Besides for Couples Retreat there is a larger team to work with - Music Supervisor and Director to point out if it didn't fit...

Kaushik said...

>> ‘Kuru Kuru Kan’ with its zing-swing guitar rhythm is...
Nice review. The main backing on Kuru Kuru KaN... is an electric piano, not a guitar, though.

Divya or RK said...

suresh, do you have background scores of unnal mudiyum thambi?

Suresh Kumar said...

Divya or RK - Sorry. I don't have it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys, John O'Brien here. A nice rounded conversation about the score. AR was left to his own creativity on this film. There were a few spotting sessions with myself, the director Peter Billingsley, the editor Dan Lebenthal and the Music Editor Jim Weidman. I would say the most input came from Jim Weidman and Peter Billingsley. We scored in Los Angeles at the Sony soundstage. AR did most of the composing in Mumbai and a little in Hollywood. AR was a dream to work with and yes his "Shark" cue was very inventive, knowing he could have gone a "safe" route. My main job description as music supervisor is to find "needle drops' or original songs to place into the film at key scenes such as the Eden East nightclub. I have scored and done music supervision on other films. I composed six original cues for this film. Peter asked me to do the Lua cue and it was very generous of AR to have it included on the soundtrack. Keep up the conversation, I'm enjoying it very much.

Suresh Kumar said...

John - Thanks for commenting here. It will clarify the doubts of many. And I Love 'Lua' song very much.

DemonStar said...

Nice to hear from you, John! :-)

Your work on the Lua track is very good indeed. Congrats on this very good score, this is one of the highlights of the year for me. Keep up the good work!

. said...

Luau at 1:55 is great! Thanks a lot John. I cant stop humming that line. And btw, I've also been reading the posts, nice job. A R Rahman is indeed a great composer and he has proved it once again.

Stephen Marshall

. said...

The song that is playing when the couples retreat movie website is opened, is it one among the other 5 John O'brien had composed for this movie? I guess so... !!

And I just love it. Especially the starting beat.

Stephen Marshall

Anonymous said...

Your spelling of Cynthia as "Cynitia" is way off, but I think this mistakes is probably not your fault and correctly repeated from the official website which had some terrible spelling on it.

Anonymous said...

Your spelling of Cynthia as "Cynitia" is way off, but I think this mistakes is probably not your fault and correctly repeated from the official website which had some terrible spelling on it.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to know the name of the song that Lucy & the yoga guy dance to at Eden East

Anonymous said...

The song that Lucy and the yoga guy dance to is called "Clabria" by Enur

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to know what the song is called at eadon east right before sean kingston's - me love.
right about 103:00min. it plays in the background. Thanks

Suresh Kumar said...

Anon - I haven't seen the film yet.

Ash said...

Heard ARR is geeting an oscar nomination for Na Na

http://beta.thehindu.com/arts/music/article82532.ece?homepage=true

Ash said...

Although "Tour to the Villas" is a remix from Guru's theme song "Jaage hain", but still a decent score.

Gato said...

-






















































I














































s

u

p

p

o

r

t



























































y

o

u










































!


























































.