Parastish - Ahmed Jehanzeb (2003)

"Parastish", Ahmed Jehanzeb's long awaited debut album is an album haunted by the success of his debut hit song "Aik Baar Kaho". While curiously, the mega hit song does not find its way onto this album - a fatal mistake to not include it here - almost the whole album lyrically mines the same vein as "Aik Baar Kaho" and musically fumbles around for the same formula of a lovelorn hit. Yet instead of finding gold one has to make do with a host of lesser songs and several plainly bad songs. "Tu Jo Naheen", a good song, and the latest single, "Kaho Ek Din", are the best of what is on offer here. Beyond these two songs, unfortunately "Parastish" is one of the more disappointing albums in recent memory.

One had such high expectations from 'Wonder boy' (as he was, his liner notes tastelessly announce, apparently titled by the media). He certainly has the vocal ability to sing memorable songs, but unfortunately most of the material he comes up with on "Parastish" is sub-par and the performances similarly seem to have flat-lined.

For all its 14 tracks, the main problem with the album is that pretty much all of it is a lovelorn mess. Being lovelorn in itself is not that bad a thing (after all, it is the standard state of affairs in most Urdu songs) but one has more of a problem with the mess part. Most of Urdu poetry despite being similar is at least more inspired. Here a lot of what is sung is insipid: trite lines like "Kaho Ek Din," ("Kaho Ek Din"), "Mujhey Pyaar Chahiye" ("Mujhe Pyaar Chahiye") and ... as so worn-out that not even 'Wonder boy' can sing them to life. And this is the case with the relatively better songs.

There are other lesser songs on "Parastish" (the hyperbole of the title in itself should have been a warning indicator) which turn unintentionally hilarious due to excessive melodrama or just simply because they do not work as intended. "Joray" is a prime example of this: one cannot see anyone singing "Joray Bantay Hain / Joray Bantay Hain / Aasmanon Main" with a straight face. What possibly started off with an earnest paean to monogamy and matrimony with each repetition just sounds plain bad or alternately hilarious. This only goes to accentuate the bad lyrics to the album.

For the lyrics to "Parastish", AJ mostly stays close to home, either supplying the lyrics himself or using the words of his own father. Generally, parents writing lyrics is a bad idea. Anwar Maqsood is uneven for Strings and though Hadiqa's mother Khawar is a bit better, she is the exception that proves the rule. On "Parastish" Captain Safeer Ahmad or 'Dad', as he is repeatedly credited on the album sleeve, is not up to the mark. This is particularly evident when his work is put up on the same album along with lyrics by Ahmad Faraz and other more accomplished writers.

The lyrics fail in the choice of subject (love, mostly of the lost kind) as much as they fail in their actual treatment of the same. Essentially and lyrically this is a whiny album, sort of the same way Aaroh's album "Sawaal" is whiny and suffers due to having 12 songs that sound more or less the same. AJ goes a tad further with 14 similarly-mooded songs which say the same thing, badly: By the end of the album the trite nature of what AJ sings places us firmly on the side of the girl who seems to have done poor AJ wrong. One can understand why she upped and left AJ.

AJ, in the liner notes, claims that his family are his greatest critics. If that is so, then one must say, they need to be a bit discerning and more critical. Nowhere is the failure of quality control more evident than on "Daal Main Kala", a faux bhangra number, which rates amongst one of the worst songs on the album or even of the genre. With this song AJ seems to be aiming somewhere lower than Waris Baig or your local bhangra artist. The aim, it seems, was to produce a song fit for Bollywood or worse yet a Lollywood movie. One can half imagine Rishi Kapoor or Momi Rana singing it in a B-grade flop. That in itself is a sight set too low.

Initially one thought that AJ was an awesome singer. He probably still is and his Ustaad, Raees Khan Sahib indeed deserves kudos on that count, but most of this album with its monotony does him a great disservice. Even "Woh Mili Jab Se", that was supposed to be the up number on this album, suffers. The song, as apparently the lyrics indicate, was supposed to be sung as the celebration of being with one's beloved. The lyrics are "Woh mili jab se / Duniya badli jab se." Yet AJ sings it in a monotone and with a lack of joy that makes him come across as a bit of a one-note wonder. In mostly wanting to be Pankhaj Udhas, AJ just ends up being plain sad, in all senses of the word.

On other instances AJ aims to ape A. R. Rehman. He does manage to nail down the excellent backing vocals and harmonies of AR quite creditably. But the production values or the spark of the master across the border is missing. Shuja Haider and Waqar Haider, great producers with Haroon, are not on top of their game here. A serious faux pas they make is to put the vocals of AJ way upfront in the mix. Notwithstanding that the boy is quite a good singer, such treatment accentuates all the flaws in his singing and makes them a bit too noticeable. Compare this with the way canny production makes a lesser singer like Abbas Ali Khan sound better and one is quick to note that the Haider brothers did not do all that well. AJ may have the potential to be a great singer but he is certainly no Mehdi Hassan (as yet) or is in the class of any of the other truly great ghazal singers whose unadorned voices can charm the listeners to no end.

For a few songs AJ tries to be Haroon as well. "Intezar" sounds more like a Haroon reject, a distant and lesser cousin of Haroon's "Goriyae" with a touch of backing vocals from "Yara". Where Haroon is energetic, AJ is lackadaisical and makes one appreciate Haroon all the more.

By the end of the album it is clear that AJ already with his first album is stuck in a rut. For all its merits, is "Aik Bar Kaho" a song to make a career out of ? Even Ali Noor after "Manwa Re" dared not repeat the same and went on to do better things despite much demand for more of the same. AJ wants to continue being a Majnun. Therein lies a much broader problem of image and focus. If you found the video to "Kaho Ek Din" too effeminate, then you will certainly be staggered by the pictures on the inside sleeve of the album. The posy picture on the order form is one of the worst pictures one has seen in ages. Dyray Communications and Abid Nasa get quite low marks for their work here. AJ needs to show us more aspects of his personality, not just the pouty posey ones.

Despite all of the above, such is the nature of the market that the album is already being wholeheartedly pushed by Indus Music. It is a pity as the album is quite disappointing and is quite a massive betrayal of talent.

Mohammad A. Qayyum
The News International, Pakistan