Let us forgive them for their inane marketing strategies, the disastrous ad campaigns; for it seems that they have grown up. Their new album "Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gol Dunya" (PPRJKGD) is adequate proof of that.
Noori front man Ali Noor had always stated that their debut album "Suno Ke Mein Hun Jawan" (SKMHJ) would be an extremely commercial album so that they could easily capture a broad audience. Once the audience was there, he would unveil the tricks up his sleeve and experiment with the sound and lyrics of the next albums. With the release of "Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gol Dunya," Stage II for Noori has begun, as the album showcases a far mature sound and themes than SKMHJ.
SKMHJ was a very simple album, both lyrically and musically. Thematically, SKMHJ was optimistic, with songs urging listeners to change the world, that life was beautiful and even professing women empowerment (ala "Tum Hans Diye"). To sum it up, SKMHJ was easily digestible.
PPRJKGD on the other hand starts off from where Noori left us with SKMHJ, a somewhat hopeful mood and then travels through bitter experiences and ends up with resigned despair, peppered with taunts. PPRJKGD retains the lyrical simplicity of the first album, but thematically it is quite serious, dealing with a variety of subjects ranging from the pros and cons of drug use to the collective apathy we all have descended into as individuals and as a society.
When one first spins the CD, it is evident that the band has put in some serious thinking, soul searching, and a great deal of emotional involvement when making this album. Perhaps it was the seclusion the band went into post-mid 2004 or the lack of pressure from MNCs? Whatever be the case, it has worked in their favor.
A major chunk of PPRJKGD was composed by Ali Noor eons ago and had already been circulating on the internet. Since the theme had already been decided well in advance, Ali Noor had a fair idea of the purpose the newer songs should ideally serve. Balancing the older, beloved songs with the unknown newer ones is tricky, but Ali Noor seems to maintain a balance between both, and has managed to go back to the seriousness of his pre-SKMHJ songs.
The album starts off with "Nishaan," the video of which has already gained massive airplay on TV channels. Musically, the song is great – the drums sound fabulous, which is a testament to Gumby’s prowess at the drums and Noor and Mekaal’s abilities as producers on this album. Lyrically, the song may not be the finest on the album, but is still inspirational in terms of subject, yet a darker tone has crept in, which is a far departure from the optimism and naivety of SKMHJ. Lyrically, this song takes on a more realistic flavor, and should strike a chord with the mature listeners, since life is not all ha ha hee hee.
Doomsday is here - the "Nishaan" has been lost and we’re lost in the doom and gloom of "Khalla." Previously, "Khalla" has been circulating on the net with a disturbing video which Ali Noor later stated should never have been released. Musically, the earlier version was more electronic and with its detached robotic feel, conveyed the sentiment of Khalla (a void) to a far greater extent. The reworked version has been made more powerful and angst ridden through the use of heavy guitar and drums, but fails to convey the feeling of emptiness, the Khalla within. The ‘tum ne apne ehsaas ko mar diya’ speech in the song does not sound as powerful as it previously did either; nevertheless it remains a marked taunt. Overall, the song creates a somber mood, where humans are accused of being self absorbed. Considering the apathetic nation we belong to where we live by the statement ‘sannu ki’, the song is quite apt. The listener is sufficiently taunted at this point, which sets the mood for the rest of the album.
But after the depressing look at human beings that is "Khalla," "Mein" is an absolute mood shift and goes back to a somewhat optimistic message that is reminiscent of SKMHJ. Perhaps the after effects of the debut album still linger on. Another credible explanation could be that perhaps they’re being sarcastic, since this scribe detected a hint of disgust in Noor’s voice when he croons ‘mein’ in the chorus. Another explanation is the ‘sannu ki’ stance that we all adopt, which is an artificial sense of happiness that shields us from the problems and suffering of the world, but results in the loss of one’s identity in the end. If the latter explanation is somewhat true, then it truly connects with "Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani," the song which binds the entire album together.
The title track is lyrically quite simple, and gains added significance when one manages to figure out the symbolism. Apparently, the song was written after one of Ali Noor’s friends ate a tobacco-filled Peeli Patti pan, which is quite intoxicating, and hence refers correctly to the feelings of a person who’s tripped out. In the literal sense, the song is a trip through an addict’s life. The lines ‘ragon mein daurne phirne ke hain hum qaayal / ke iss ke bina nahi jeena masterfully incorporates Ghalib’s verse: ‘Ragon mein daurne phirne ke ham naheen qaayal’ and casts them into a drug addict’s mantra. Please note that the meanings of Ghalib’s and Noor’s lines are in no way similar. The use of Ghalib’s verse is quite interesting since no song writer in Pakistan has tried their hand at using age old verses in a different context. But Noor definitely gets away with it, and more importantly, gets the point across in the process. In an interview in Instep, Noor mentioned that the song was also about the indifference and apathy of the society we live in, which also comes across in the song if one considers apathy the new designer drug of the masses. The chorus of ‘yeh dunya gol hai’ repeating over and over reiterates the central theme, which can be interpreted in many ways, but for this scribe is reminiscent of hash induced conversations, where the simplest of facts take on an exaggerated magnitude. Another interpretation could be that no matter how many drugs you take, or how you choose to deal with the messed up world or the ‘gol dunya’ that we live in, the ground realities remain the same, and will continue to remain so. The fact that the songs on this album are open to many interpretations makes them all the more interesting and consequently makes them richer.
This is where the next song "Ooncha" plays a fundamental role, in explaining this messed up world and merges with "Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani" to create a hard hitting statement. The rich and famous of Pakistan are slammed in this song, since they have the means and power to do the most yet fail to do so, which in inexcusable. Lyrically the song is quite solid. It remains to be seen as to how many people will actually think about the context of the lyrics in the world of today, where we’re all involved in a rat race of who makes the most moolah. Ali Azmat famously lent his voice for the song, and the Punjabi bit adds a nice touch.
The frustration of the band continues with "Jo Meray," with a lesser dosage of musical angst. "Jo Meray" deals with a feeling of helplessness, of not being able to express feelings. Ali Hamza composed, wrote and sang this track, which is a refreshing change, since he has far better vocals than Noor that are ideal for a slow number like "Jo Meray."
The conflicting emotions continue, with the helplessness giving way to pure anger. "Sari Raat Jaga" is one of the best songs on the album; the lyrics, to put it mildly, are very interesting. Instead of the typical ‘I love you, you left me but I still love you’ message, this song instead vows revenge. ‘Tere ghar ko aag lag jaye / aur tujhe jaag na aaye’ is a bitter threat and makes this song more powerful and a refreshing change from the formulaic love songs of today. The guitar solo on this song is amazing and conveys pure, naked anger. However, the death metal growling completely takes away the emphasis from the lyrics and could have been easily avoided. The female vocals don’t really fit in either, and by adding them, they deviate from the ‘I love you but I’ll kill you’ theme. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic song with pure hatred emanating from it.
The anger quickly ebbs away to a quiet desperation with "Aarzoo," which again reflects how the human psyche works – love, sadness, hatred and then the depression sets it. On the slower side, "Aarzoo" is a lament for a loved one or is perhaps a question put to Noori’s contemporaries, yet reinforces the message of the album with the line ‘ho gayein hain kyun bezubaan?’. The guitar solo on this song is another highlight where Ali Noor shines, and the song ends on a questioning note.
The questions do not end there. "Meray Log" is all about subtle taunts and questions put to people who spend their lives in pursuit of green cards, visas, immigration applications. "Meray Log" starts off by iterating the beat of SKMJH’s "Jana Tha Humne," but after 20 seconds is musically nothing like the rocking song that was "Jana." Subject wise, both songs patriotic numbers through and through, with expatriates being taunted for not having the guts to stick it out in their own country and facing the problems. The subtle taunts are quite a change when compared to the ‘in your face’ mood of the album’s earlier half, and they try to inject a positive message here with the lines "tum badlo, badle dil, badle log." The question remains though: who really has the motivation within to change?
The subtle taunts and questions suddenly vanish with the sarcastic "(Kuttay) Te Tho Uthay." "Chawani De Chuwaray, Khao Mere Pyaarey?" The sarcasm and taunts never disappear in this album. A few critics went hoarse screaming at the resemblance between Kuttay and a ditty called "Ballroom Blitz" by Sweet, with an RJ dedicating 2 hours of a show on the subject, yet the similarity is only in the chord progression, which doesn’t seem worth giving importance to. Lyrically, the song is a sarcastic delight, with lyrics that have been again inspired from a poet, in this case Bulley Shah. Ali Hamza later wished on a statement made at the Noori website that he had called the song "Chuwaray." The harder, edgier feel that Noori aimed at in the earlier half of the album is again repeated in this song, where the guitar and drum sounds combine to create a song that is just catchy. Gumby proves his might again in this song, with a flourish on the drums at the end which proves that there is no better drummer in Pakistan than him. Mekaal again must be credited for giving this song and the album on the whole that extra oomph. One wonders why "(Kuttay) Te Tho Uthay" is the last song on the album, but if its an indication of the theme of the next album, then it is quite intriguing, and makes one hope that Noori’s next album won’t take four years to make it to stores.
What is particularly striking about PPRJKGD is that Noori sticks to the concept of the album and yet manages to do it through heavy guitar sounds, drums and retains it when they slow down in tempo. A smart move indeed, since Noori will manage to appeal to the audience that is more into rock music, yet will still appeal to their teeny bopper audience where they have a very strong market post SKMHJ through the slower numbers.
Lyrically, PPRJKGD is quite simple, perhaps to aid the predominately teenage fan base of the band, yet the lyrics are not as inane as SKMJH where the word ‘na’ was repeatedly used till it became irritating. Production wise, this album is a delight, with listeners quickly labeling it as the best produced album in Pakistan. Mekaal and Noori score high in this area; for a rock album of this level, they manage to provide a consistent aural experience.
The cover art with a man and woman trying to balance the world on their head is quite interesting – perhaps it refers to the stress filled lives of today where we appear to be carrying the weight of the world’s problems on our shoulders. Or maybe it’s a sarcastic comment at how we like to play with the world with a casualness that is not becoming as conscious human beings. The inlay features a simple thanks to God, the band’s families and fans, as opposed to SKMHJ where an entire page was dedicated to listing every entity that was remotely related to the band.
With PPRJKGD, Noori have been able to prove a number of things: firstly, that they are not a one album wonder; secondly, that a good rock album can be made in Pakistan with a great live drum sound; and thirdly, you do not have to throw in complicated Urdu words ala EP to get the point across.
A trip to Peeli Patti and Raja Jani’s ‘Gol Dunya’ can leave the more sensitive listener ashamed, embarrassed and questioning their apathy. It may even motivate them. This is where the band becomes successful in doing what they failed at in SKMHJ – inculcating a sense of responsibility in humans. What remains to be seen if human beings can actually forget about the rat race that is life and do something worthwhile for a change. What’s great is that Pakistani music has finally decided to prick our conscience.Huma Imtiaz