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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

People Like Us Soundtrack Review

A.R.Rahman’s non-Indian film scores, almost always had its share of Indian elements. Indian Tarana blends with Spanish flamenco for the introduction scene of a Spanish Yoga guru – Salvadore, and Americans undress to the rhythms of a Ghatam in Couples Retreat. It is Darbari on Continuum Fingerboard or Harshdeep Kaur’s haunting hymns in times of despair for Aron Ralston. A solo Saarangi playing the theme set on an unmistakable Indian scale fills the entire soundtrack, be it for Her Majesty from Great Britain (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) or for the reunion of three estranged sisters from Austria (Passage). When, I first saw the Credits of People Like Us soundtrack, I was surprised that there are no Indian instruments or Voices used, probably for the first time in an A.R.Rahman soundtrack. People Like Us is an all American family drama. However, the instrument used doesn’t matter as much as the melody to set the score in a specific milieu. The major thematic melodies in People Like Us score do not have the Indian inflections and that make the score sound not necessarily American, but it is anything but Indian.

A.R.Rahman is extremely good at writing pieces combining Synth and acoustic instruments, which, thankfully, is what People Like Us soundtrack is full of. People Like Us is more melodic than atmospheric. A.R.Rahman wisely allows the Synth and atmospheric soundscapes to dominate a piece, only when gloom is the mood that he is after in the piece (Dad’s Shaving Kit, Dad’s Dead). The Synth in other pieces is there to make even most emotional of thematic melodies less mushy. With a subtle synth always thudding, tugging, lingering and looping along underneath, the solo acoustic instruments parade one after the other to make the main thematic melodic statements, and minimal yet abundantly adequate strings section provide a tender supporting cushion to ease the burden of the main melody to evoke intended emotions. There is a delectable innateness in the melody, intimacy in the way solo instrumentals are layered and the breeziness in the orchestration throughout the score. With the score emerging from the softest of the registers of every solo instrument - Piano, Harp, Harmonica, Clarinet, Flute, Horn, Acoustic Guitar, Cello – used, the score as a whole is exquisitely soothing to listen to.

People Like Us is also thematically rich, with the themes and their variations adequately recurring throughout the soundtrack, in an attempt to narrate the complete story and hint at the key moments, even without the aid of the visuals. A strong melody is introduced right in the beginning in the People Like Us track, strong enough to make us believe it to be the main theme of the film. The theme from People Like Us track appears immediately in the next cue Newyork to L.A where every note of the melody is hesitantly hit on Piano with longer gaps in between the notes to suggest the mind of Sam, who at this moment wants to avoid attending his Dad’s funeral. Just a few bars of the main Frankie theme (Sam’s Sister) are hinted toward the end of this piece, hinting at the surprise that awaits Sam.

Frankie’s theme recur most number of times throughout the score, undergoes a number of delectable orchestral variations and is even expanded as a song “Dotted Line” (Co-Written by Liz Phair). Frankie’s Theme is heard in all its glory in Tacos. The themes and so many instrumental layers from the various cues crisscross each other in varied forms throughout the score. A melodic-synth layer from Dad’s Studio sneaks into Discount Prom Dress, the People Like Us cue makes a soul stirring reprise in “Breakfast for Mom/Just be People” hinting a sense of closure attained in the narrative. “I’m your brother” is a delightful conversation between a subdued Horn (Sam reveals that he is Frankie’s brother) and a Cello (that plays Frankie’s theme). However, even if you aren’t much into such motif-spotting exercise, the immensity of emotions the pieces invokes is reason enough for someone to immerse himself into this score.

My only little grouse about this entire soundtrack is the song “Dotted Line”. A.R.Rahman attempts a mainstream American film song and it sounds like a typical mainstream American film song, with a very faint stamp of A.R.Rahman in the Orchestration and that is so atypical of A.R.Rahman. There definitely seems to be some problem in knitting English words with an already composed Rahman melody. It has always been much better when Rahman sets already written English verses to a melody (Journey Home from Bombay Dreams). But, that is from someone who has been closely following A.R.Rahman’s music for past two decades. The other song Airport Adventures (featuring Michael “Nomad” Ripoll) laced with many layers of assorted Guitars and drums that scream the American sound, injects the much needed energy in an otherwise totally mellifluous album.

There are cues that don’t rely on any of the main motifs, and that liberty of not having to use one of the motifs A.R.Rahman uses to his advantage to make the soundtrack much more exotic and eclectic.

Sam follows Frankie (Following Frankie) with cascading layers of Celtic tinged Violins racing over an unstable synth rhythm that suggest a sense of urgency and uncertainty. “Welcome to People” set in a relaxed Waltz rhythm is relentlessly mellifluous, melodious and the arrangement is simply sublime. Beat the Living starts off like a solo guitar piece but makes a surprise turn midway and becomes a cool whistle-along whistle melody with a swing rhythm.

A rhythmic beating and breaking of a shell of a cooked crab leads us to the most exhilarating piece of the soundtrack – Crab Drumming / Finding Sam. A guitar strums into way into the next section of the piece in a rhythm set by the drumming of the crab. What follows is the unmistakable signature A.R.Rahman sound in the blissful Piano piece that runs around a heavenly surge of strings and this piece precisely is what Alex Kurtzman could be referring to as “a sound unlike anything else” in his notes. The way the piece builds up to a crescendo and cuts itself at the peak, leaves you yearning for more. It is one of the most refreshing and rejuvenating pieces of music I have heard in a while, and ever since I heard the thirty seconds sample of the piece on Amazon, it has been the piece of the music that alarms and wakes me up in the morning every day. I couldn’t ask for a better start to my day.

A.R.Rahman sticks to simple melodies, ornaments the melodies with ethereal instrumental layers and maintains a thematic integrity. A coherent sonic texture and orchestral color is maintained throughout. I already like the score immensely and it can only get better with the film. People Like Us is another worthy addition to an eclectic repertoire of A.R.Rahman’s Hollywood scores.


Harsha Vardhan said...

Couldn't resist reading and now that I finished the whole article, reading that last line umpteen times, I know I have to pass some sleepless nights all the way till I get hold of a copy. Any idea when it will be available in India

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Hars - No idea about the release in india. It will definitely not be soon.

Manu Shrivastava said...

Good write up. From Rahman's mouth - "Alex said (the music) can’t be epic, it can’t be world music...I was following his vision, while at the same time sticking to something that I wanted to do.", makes it clear why there are no ethnic instruments or stamp of raaga based melodies.
Yet to hear the pieces so cannot comment more on the blogger's opinions.

Anonymous said...

http://screeninvasion.com/music-review/people-like-us-soundtrack-review/http://screeninvasion.com/music-review/people-like-us-soundtrack-review/ says that "Dotted Line" was not by ARR.