Buri Baat Hai - Shehzad Roy (2005)

Much has happened since Shehzad Roy's last album, 2002's "Rab Janey." There has been a changing of guard: Newer faces and talents such as Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar have taken the market by storm. Shehzad Roy, the eternal fresh faced kid, is now in the curious position of being an elder artist of sorts. Surprising though it might be, he has now been in the game for almost ten years, making a bit of a niche for himself with pleasant pop songs and heartthrob appeal. Notwithstanding his teen appeal, his work has been quite consistent in the past with the debut "Zindagi" (1996), "Darshan" (1997), the high mark of "Teri Soorat" (1999) and then the followup "Rab Janey" (2002) all doing well. Recently, however he was possibly the artist most affected by the Government crackdown on CD manufacturing units as reportedly and much to his consternation his ready–for–release album was shelved as Sadaf distributors struggled to get its house in order. Now with matters apparently sorted Shehzad's "Buri Baat Hai" has arrived as part of a flood of releases by Sadaf.

The slyly titled "Buri Baat Hai" has indeed arrived with a bit of a bang. The lead off single is the brazenly titled "Saali" (my mother who appreciates cleancut Shehzad Roy keeps trying to convince me the title refers to the relationship of a "saali" and is not actually an insult). It has hit the airwaves with a fabulous video and to much acclaim. The newly shorn Roy Boy lights the video up with a fair turn at acting and the song is rather fun too. Amena and Ahsan Rahim also did a good job with the video. So the accompanying album thus seemed to have been something to anticipate. Perhaps one expected, it would deliver a rocking good time.

Unfortunately, "Buri Baat Hai" falls well short of expectations.

If one gets past the video one notices that "Saali," the lead off song on the album, is dependent more on the video for its appeal rather than the other way round. It is a catchy song but unlike other street–chap songs like "Aati Kya Khandala," it overstays its welcome. The street style ends up becoming a tad irritating after a while. Musically the song is catchy, but it seems to stray close to the Indian "Jahan Teri Ye Nazar Hai, Meri Jaan Mujhay Khabar Hai."

The earlier songs in the album – barring one exception – are the better ones. If "Saali" is one of the best, the next track "Ankhain" is close behind. Overall, it is a quality track. In feel, it is basically a Strings song: one can imagine that melodic duo singing it, and perhaps better. That similarity stops me from crediting the song as 'excellent.'

"Yaad," the next song, is musically pleasant; one may have even liked it but for the fact that it is actually Momin's timeless ghazal ("Tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho") set to music. This in itself may have been a creditable thing, but for the fact that the song and singing does grievous harm to the ghazal and its meaning. Furthermore, it does not have the decency to acknowledge the lyrical lift. The way Shehzad sings it, there is not a bit of the pathos or feeling of indignation of the words exhibited in the song. The song is just not solemn or melancholic enough: it is not a convincing version.

If it seems repetitive that I keep comparing each song with another artist's song, there is a point to it: much of the album seems derivative and there are better similar songs out there. Plus, it also indicates that there seems to be a formula to the album. For a title track, "Buri Baat Hai" seems to be too close to a previous number by Shehzad himself. For this and other reasons the title song is one of weakest on the album. Lyrically it is ineffectual and musically it amounts to self plagiary because it is essentially a lesser recasting of "Teri Soorat" with the same beat and similar arrangement.

While the first half of the album is cyclable, the second half with a notable exception significantly lets the album down. "Wallah" tries something different in a double speed vocal bit in the middle but does not really work. It is standard fare. Shehzad invokes 'Allah' a fair bit in the song. The context he does it in is troubling: apparently only girls and pain induced by them invokes the Almighty.

"No–Bahar" starts off with what sounds like a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sample, only for it to immediately to turn into a techno party song. The music is quite energetic, but the weakest bit of the song is unfortunately SR's vocals: they are too lacking in excitement and a refrain of 'Allah Allah' torpedoes the song. Moreover, halfway into the song Shehzad shifts from street-chaap to high flown language and the lyrics become even more jarring. One wonders if the lyricist and SR himself considered the appropriateness of what he was singing.

A curiosity follows: First there was Abrar saluting away the Pak Fauj. Vital Signs, Najam Shiraz and many others bowing away before the Air Force. Shehzad ("Tamgha–e–Imtiaz" winner) has a go at celebrating the Navy. "Navy," the song starts with sea noises and is musically interesting. The lyrics however leave much to be desired and are simply trite. Where Abrar's "Pak Fauj," notwithstanding the horrid chorus, was soulful and meaningful, this is more empty sloganeering and soulless. The Navy deserved better.

It is left for "Hum Ek Hain" to be the more effective, meaningful song. I must confess that I was apprehensive before about "Hum Ek Hain" before I even heard it. I had imagined it to be yet another standard obligatory patriotic song put on the album out of necessity (because every album should have one.) But the song develops into something more laudable, and something a tad uncommon and thus appreciable. It develops into something more than patriotic: one wonders initially if it is a plea against racism ("Hai rang juda/ hai roop alag/ ...Darmiyaan na layain kabhi")? A plea for love and peaceful co–existence with India perhaps (like his Sukhbir duet?) However, it slowly reveals itself as a plea for pan–Islamic unity. If one can stomach the sentiment (SR certainly has had a consistent pro–Islamic bent; recall his Mohammad Bin Qasim style "Khudi" video), then the song certainly has the best the lyrics on the album: "Aapas mein larr mar jayain/ Ban jayain tamasha hum." Musically, one gripe: the song is not as epic or emotional as it could or appropriately should have been. That aside "Hum Ek Hain" is an excellent song.

While "Hum Ek Hain" is quite a good song, "Tere Bin" is the standout track on this album. It is more in the mode of Ali Zafar's softer songs: it is a soulful ballad in which SR sings at his most soulful. It may be a backhanded compliment but SR does not sound like himself in the song and sounds great all the more because of it. The song also shows that when he tries to sing well, he can. The guitars briefly shine in the song: Imran Akhund for a few seconds comes center stage and matches the tone and style of Salman Ahmad at his best, but he is centre stage much too briefly.

Speaking of guitars, "Kaise" opens as an aggressive rock feel. The guitars are great but Shehzad is too atonal and fails to match the music with his singing. "Shola" could have been much better and needed to be more of a groove song. Instead it just meanders. Shahzad however does a fair job singing it. But the lyrics are still bad: "Kache dinon mein kache dilon ki ada hai (?)/ Pyaar ke haseen roop main aik azaab chahiye, soch le." If the idea of the song was to be insistent and the lyrics were intended to be brash, then the music should have complimented it.

In "Jind Jaan" Shehzad has a go at a Punjabi mid tempo ballad and is passable and pleasant at times (when the vocals are not all that challenging) and not so at other times (when the vocals are more challenging). One wonders though why it is sung from the female's perspective. The underwhelming song brings the album (ignoring the last repeated bonus track "Hum Ek Hain") to an underwhelming end.

In this and other songs, Shehzad's voice is more front and center than ever before. However, shorn of great songs to cover for his vocal shortcomings, the shortcomings are now all the more notable. He is a limited singer who does not do much with his voice. He is pleasant when he remains in his comfort zone and he rarely ventures out. To his credit he does at times attempt to be hard – musically or in image: certainly the image change (rock poses, cropped hairstyle) may have pointed towards a harder edge. I suspect he has always wanted to be a rocker (why else have a guitarist with him on most performances?) Yet he fails vocally on this count and in image: He still remains loveable and soft.

Musically, this is a safe album, mostly done by the numbers. It is competently arranged but there is nothing groundbreaking here. The flutes are possibly the best bit of instrumentation on it. Imran Akhund's guitars are also indeed great at places but at others they too are ordinary. He needed to develop his solos a tad more. For all the projection Shehzad gives him live and in videos, Imran really does not contribute all that much. Whatever he does is too truncated to have the impact it could have. The song on point is, as mentioned already, "Tere Bin." "Kaise" is of course an exception and is all the better for greater contribution from him. Musically there is much here which is formula. Each has the touch of Shuja and Shani.

The packaging of the CD is unremarkable; the sleeve is attractive but could have been better. The album could certainly have done with better liner notes and more specifically a lyric sheet. On the other hand given how weak the lyrics are, perhaps not including the lyric sheet was the right way to go. Lyrics by Nadeem Asad mostly vary from weak to poor. There is little or no art to them: they either state the obvious or where they try to be fancy they lack poeticism.

It is surprising to note that even after almost a decade in the scene, Shehzad Roy still remains youthful as ever. The music, however, is aging rather badly. Ultimately this album lacks personality. Its lack of standout tracks is disappointing from an album that one had heard Shehzad was eager to put out. Others now seem to have outstripped him and for most of the album he seems to be struggling to find his niche.

Overall, thus one does not get much bang for one's buck: There may be twelve songs (thirteenth is a repeat essentially) but out of them only two or three are memorable, the rest are tolerable or worse, passable.

Mohammad A. Qayyum
The News International, Pakistan