Anyone who knows Tamil, on listening to Adiye (from Maniratnam’s next Kadal) for the first time - even those who are quite attuned to the ways and means of A.R.Rahman, would be perplexed. Yes, music has no language, but every language has its inherent musicality. Especially, in folk music, which is supposed to emerge most casually and intuitively from heart and mind of a singer, it should not be possible for a listener to precisely know what came first – melody or the verses. A song emerges from the way the words follow a rhyme and fall into a predestined musical meter and rhythm.
A.R.Rahman breaks this intuitive song making process, and distorts all the preset norms and rules, and creates a song encased in an orchestration that is totally alien to a fisherman, who sings in a trance while madly in love with a girl. Those who don’t understand the language of the verses wouldn't have any problem in connecting with the core emotion of the song, because they wouldn't know that there is a conflict between musical form chosen and musicality of the language of the verses in the song. Adiye is revelation and also a not so gentle reminder of what A.R.Rahman is and always has been after with his music – the universality of an emotion. A.R.Rahman has always been like this – a relentless rebel.
I too was perplexed when I heard Adiye for the first time. But, I shouldn't have, for if Gurus of Peace had released before its original Tamil version Poraalae Ponnuthaayi, I wouldn’t have thought of it as a a song of a girl in love from a remote village in south Tamilnadu, and yet I had no problems in listening to both the Original Tamil song and Gurus of Peace. With Adiye, A.R.Rahman takes his experimentation to a whole new level, with every single word tuned with a western inflection, and Sid Sriram’s not so perfect Tamil rendition adds further to Rahman’s madness. This is yet again an album when listening for the first time you are exactly like the boy who sings “Pallanguzhi Paadhai puriyala Unna Nambi varanae”, you don’t know where all of it is leading you to, but because you are a fan of A.R.Rahman, you trust him and you are patient to walk the tough path, because you always know at the end (of one time listening) it is all going to be worth it. And it is!
However, I don’t think A.R.Rahman entirely doesn’t care about the nativity; it is just that he trusts the sound of the words of the lyricist (Vairamuthu and Madhan Karky) far too much to take care of that part of the experience that the song has to deliver for a listener. Even in a fairly straight devotional song like Anbin Vaasalae, when Haricharan sings “Naan Yen Seivaen” for the second time, he takes a western path that is completely different from the one he took the first time, while gliding through the word “Naan”. A.R.Rahman generally adds surprising Carnatic touches in a totally western song (Hello Mr.Ethirkatchi - remember the Carnatic touch Harini adds to the word yennaachu when she sings Kaelvikku badhilum yennaachu towards the end of the song), and in here he does the exact opposite – sprinkling western inflections in a not so western song.
In Eley Keechan, A.R.Rahman strikes a perfect balance between the native folk and the western country folk in the melody, though the orchestration is entirely western. Again, does he capture the core mood of the song of that of a fun, festivity and celebration? He does and How!
The presence of a song like Magudi - Techno-rap-trance-DJ music - kind of makes some sense when you think of it as a song they play in a rave party at a beach resort (fishermen are not the only people living by sea shore), though sounds like the one made for a beach not in Kovalam but in Goa. I would like to hear an officially leaked rough track done for this by A.R.Rahman in his voice. This is again a genre like folk where music and words are totally intertwined. It is difficult to come up with a tune like that and write lyrics for it later; they both ought to happen simultaneously. Of course, that Thavil layer throughout is unmistakably A.R.Rahman.
When composing devotional songs, A.R.Rahman keeps all genre bending experiments to a minimum and keeps it straight and simple, and yet manages to make it the best song of the soundtrack. Anbin Vaasalae is a song straight from a beach side church of coastal Tamilnadu. If Anbendra Mazhayilae (Minsara Kanavu) was a kind of equivalent of Manmohana (Jodha Akbar), Anbin Vaasalae could be that of Sakthi Kodu (Baba). This song too is structured unlike any other Christian devotional song I have heard before. There is a sense of urgency, a restless energy and power that is not usually associated with a devotional song. There are many Goosebumps inducing moments in the song, but one moment which puts me directly in touch with that higher divine power is when towards the end, the second half of the chorale section suddenly loses the support of the timpani that has been thundering underneath thus far and is suddenly set afloat in the air with just a sea of strings and a deep double bass accompaniment. It is like a guy losing the support of the ground underneath while falling off the cliff and the fall is not to hit the ground, but to spread the wings and fly higher.
The sound mixing technique leaves a composer with so many possibilities, and Rahman knows how to use them to create a unique experience for a listener. Usually in strings arrangement, of the multiple layers of strings, bass cello section is always played underneath the main violin layers, but in here, the lead layers of strings are heard at a distance and deep cello section is at the fore, and this minor twist gives a whole new sonic texture that absolutely puts a listeners in a place that they had never been before. It is as if you are zooming into the distant moon closer to your mind’s eye distancing everything else that is closer to you and keeping it at the distance where the moon actually is. That is Rahman sound of now, one that has far higher purpose than just to make the song sound clean and sophisticated.
Chiththiraiyae Nila, Moongil Thottam and Nenjukulle are soft, lilting, midnight Tamil melodies that carries what we call 90s A.R.Rahman touch. Almost a decade of my life between 1992 and 2000 whizzed past my mind’s eye for a split second precisely when the synth bass kicks in in Chiththiraiyae Nila. Nenjukkulle is that kind of a nostalgic song while listening which you realize that it always have has been a part of your subconscious musical universe and just that you never recognized until A.R.Rahman brought it to your notice. It feels so familiar and yet so fresh. Sakthisree Gopalan is a huge part of the freshness. Husky-grainy voice of Harini for Moongil Thottam, deep and soothing Vijay Yesudas’s voice for a lullaby, uniquely folk-rock voice of Sid Sriram that becomes a part of the music of Adiye and trusting in the rusticity in his own voice for Eley Keechan – choosing right singer for the right song, A.R.Rahman is the one and only.
I like when the music obediently follows the mood dictated by the lyrics and in Chiththiraiyae Nila melody and the backing orchestration follow the lyrics with such innateness that despite all those orchestral and melodic twists and turns, one never feels lost. Also aiding the cause is the recurring hook Yettu Vei Makka that comforts the listener by making them feel not lost before the song takes the next turn. In fact, I don’t remember an A.R.Rahman soundtrack in which all the songs had in them a hook section that recurs so many times within the song and acts like binding glue of the different sections of the song where music plays slavishly to the written verses - Adiye enna enga nee koottippora in Adiye, chorale sections in Anbin Vaasalae, Idhu Podhum Enakku in Moongil Thottam, Vaale kondaalae in Elay Keechan. A.R.Rahman’s iterative approach to music creation makes it possible for a film song to have such intriguing structures.
Maybe this hook-filled structure is why, though all the songs are of varied genres and emotions, there is a sense of coherence in the soundtrack; it feels like all the songs are a part of whole. The wholesomeness of the soundtrack is also because all the songs are consistently light on ears, have no hard percussion sound, ample guitars, vocal harmonies, laidback accordion pieces and a perennially running section of strings that gently rise, fall and curl like that of sea waves underneath the main melody (especially in Nenjukkulle) throughout the soundtrack. The beauty of this soundtrack as a bouquet is far more than the sum of the beauties of the varied individual flowers it is made of. Kadal is one of those soundtracks which you listen to so many times without skipping any track (may be except Magudi) that even when you listen to just one song from the soundtrack on some FM channel, the moment the song ends, you begin to hum the next song – the whole soundtrack becomes one long song.
Now, eagerly waiting for the one more song that A.R.Rahman always adds while composing the background score of a Maniratnam film, which almost always outshines every other song released in the Original Soundtrack CD.