Maazi, Haal, Mustaqbil - Mizraab (2004)

It says something about an album that its distributor releases it without knowledge of the band. Or without much fanfare and after sitting on it for quite a while. Or after being prompted publicly in articles to release it. Precisely what it says about the album however is open to question. Given that Mizraab is helmed by the prodigiously talented guitarist Faraz Anwar the album may well have been a cult masterpiece whose brilliance was perhaps not to be acknowledged by many. Khalid Sadaf, the distributor; however seemed to have been apprehensive about the album's prospects. His point of view seems to have been that the album was not commercial enough. After having listened to the album for a week now, I am unfortunately inclined to agree with Khalid Sadaf. But for different reasons. The album is uneven and, barring some significant guitar fireworks, it is not all that it promised to be.

Let us talk about the good things first: Faraz Anwar the guitarist shines as expected. His tone on various songs, his technique, touch and feel, all are pretty much spot on. On most occasions he, to his credit, and unlike other resident maestros on the scene, avoids the tendency to overplay. Lyrical and at times jaw-droppingly brilliant, the album is a guitar playing master class. Musically, the highlights and indeed the life to the album is provided through the guitars. In fact, so good is Faraz that most find it intimidating talking about the album negatively, so much so that most people I talked to seemed to rave about the guitars on the album without even having listened to it.

Amongst the songs, the strongest are two tracks already released: "Insaan" and "Izhaar". The former highlights the ability of the band to come up with songs with an epic feel to them and the latter points out that Mizraab can write punchy, great, punk singles if they really want to. Hot on the heels of these two the Floydesque "Jaaney Main" is truly excellent if a tad too close to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb". The moody "Panchi" and brutal "Maucee" are each musically great. In fact, come to think of it, most of the album is musically quite accomplished.

Furthermore, in terms of scope and ambition the album dares to think big (consider the grand title "Maazi, Haal, Mustaqbil") and much of the hype surrounding it suggested that it was a serious minded album. And that indeed it is. Message-wise, the positivity of "Insaan" (Insaan kay khwab ki tabeer to insaan hi hai, an ode to self-reliance), "Izhaar", "Maucee" (Mayusi gunah hai) is certainly welcome. The uncertainty of "Panchi" and doom and gloom of a few other tracks certainly provides a broad emotional spectrum to the album. Moreover, the band tries its hands at a number of various styles of song and indeed Faraz attempts to sing in various different voices. All of these are of course creditable things to attempt in an album and are an effort to break away from the normal pop bhangra fare on radio and TV.

However, unfortunately, in most of these creditable efforts and aspects mentioned above, is precisely where the album falls flat.

Firstly, in its serious-mindedness the album is also quite trite and not all that elegant. Lyrically, thematically and in the treatment of each the album is quite amateurish. A step back for lyricist Adnan who was quite good with Karavan. Notwithstanding the positivity and the breadth of emotions attempted by the album, there is the amateurish tinge of Noori-like philosophizing on most occasions (curiously spelt) "Maucee" (gunah hai), resembles slogans like "Suno ke main hoon jawan," but is even lesser than that. That Faraz repeats such trite lines mantra-like again and again does not give them any more meaning with each repeat, but rather lessens the meaning.

Contrast the multi-layered meanings in lines such as "Rabba merai haal da mehram tu" ("Rabba" - Mekaal Hassan Band) with "Shaam hui ghar aa panchi" ("Panchi" - Mizraab) and one sees the difference and notes the weakness of the latter. While cliched lines like "Himmat kar, hasad na kar" are so bad that they possibly seem to have been read off the back of some passing truck. The lyrics otherwise too lack focus and rarely talk about specifics. General trite metaphors of sehras, panchis abound. One just would have hoped the band when it backed its words with such focused and powerful music would have named names, talked about more specifics than rage just with generality. In comparison to, for example, EP's "Irtiqa," "Maazi,Haal, Mustaqbil" remains quite awkward.

While there is quite a bit of experimentation with styles on the album, the songs still have a derivative feel to them. A lot of the time can be spent with the album playing spot-the-influences and more. Each song seems to have been written in the particular mode of a band that Faraz seems to like: there is a Pink Floyd song ("Jaaney Main"), there is a punk song ("Izhaar") and so it goes on. And it is in this effort to try different styles that the band stumbles into possibly the worst song on the album.

The marriage of clap-along soul/gospel with eastern melodies in "Kitnee Sadiyan" is bold but goes seriously awry just because Faraz's weak falsetto makes it sound like a joke. The contrast between the huskily voiced verses and the falsetto vocals is just plain bad. The moment in between when Faraz starts singing "Choti choti khushiyaan" is so Tappish (remember the nerdy '60s peace song "Listen to the Flower People" in Spinal Tap) that one just wonders if Faraz had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. One doesn't know if he is subversively mocking love songs or in earnest trying to sing one. Sadly the latter appears to be the case. Composition-wise too, the song doesn't go anywhere. It just meanders and ends, a true example of the downside of cut-and-paste songwriting with sequencers. The payoff of such songs invariably comes in the end with an exultant crescendo. None is heard here. In short, I could describe "Kitnee Sadiyan" as a falsetto-gospel-clapalong-70's Pakistani TV style song, but I would much rather describe it otherwise, as an unintentional joke. Funnier still, the band, it is heard, is making this their next commercial single. Hear it to make up your mind.

With the above song, one can see and appreciate what precisely Faraz was trying to achieve but unfortunately he fails to achieve the same. Most of it is down to the fact that he does not seem to have the vocal chops to do so. Just as the strongest thing about the album is Faraz Anwar (his guitars), the weakest link also turns out to be Faraz with his singing. Metal has often been gifted with some truly great singers. Faraz in comparison is just a weak, Mizrable singer actually (pun intended). He tries his hand at a number of voices and struggles with most. "Kitnee Sadiyan" has him singing in several octaves; he is unconvincing in most. His Eddie Vedder-like singing on "Izhaar" is possibly his most convincing. The production on the album, especially the choice and sound of sequenced drums is weak (bad cymbal crashes on "Izhaar"). The guitar tones, however, it bears repeating are excellent.

The packaging of the album is adequate; an improvement for Sadaf, but the distributor still skimps by keeping the booklet insubstantial. A lyric sheet is not provided and with Faraz's tendency to slur the same would have been welcome. Nevertheless, at least the band makes an effort to be artistic with the cover and do something other than moodily pose on it. The cover picture is an artistic collage. A bit of it is confusing: One can barely make out the dove ('Panchi') that is supposedly mixed in there, but overall the cover is nicer than most pointless 'here is the band posing' covers one gets to see.

In conclusion and unfortunately, one has to state that Maazi, Haal, Mustaqbil" is a disappointing album. One had expected so much more from Mizraab and the band by en large fails to deliver with "Maazi, Haal, Mustaqbil". Weak vocals, lack of polish in the lyrics and flat drums; paraphrasing what Frank Zappa once said to himself, the best advice to Faraz Anwar would be: "Hey guitar boy, just play yer guitar."

Mohammad A. Qayyum
The News International, Pakistan