Sillunu Oru Kadhal is not a profound album. That's actually the good news, because A.R. Rahman reminds us here that in the wake of some of his more "serious" projects in recent years, he hasn't forgotten how to have fun. And this album has fun by the bucketload, beginning with the first track:
Ammi Mithichachi is an infectious mix of the downright catchy and an unabashedly rustic refrain (replete with an assortment of voices, from the childish to the wizened) that just cries out for a video set in a busy street. On a first hearing I thought this was no more than a fluff number, but the effect created by the rustic lyrics that segue into a more contemporary sound stayed with me, and after re-visiting it a couple of times I am persuaded that this song deserves to be a chartbuster. Without fail, this listener caught himself smiling (even though I don't speak a word of Tamil except for, um, poda patti!).
Munbe Vaa is a more conventional, and conventionally soulful, love ballad from the sound of it, elevated by some dazzling orchestration as only the Master is capable of. The song begins with some honeyed string strains, followed by Shreya Goshal, who is in good form here, although her voice possesses a limpid quality that doesn't endear it to me very much. Goshal is superbly accompanied by one of those Rahman regulars, namely a chorus with personality, one that is an integral part of the song as opposed to merely serving as musical filler. Naresh Iyer's rising vocals add a third dimension to the song, and the interplay of the three vocal elements flatters Goshal, whose voice is getting deeper (and richer) with age.
Majaa is a playful "nighttime" song, more a mood track than anything else. Lest one dismiss it as an inconsequential number, however, Rahman periodically reminds us that close attention will be rewarded: the combination of heavy -- but sparingly used -- percussion, and the sort of dark chocolatey, unmistakably carnal strings (at least I think they are strings) we heard in Mangal Pandey's Rasiya rear their head here too, resulting in an effect that is just plain sexy. But Rasiya this is not: sex there was serious business, a matter of urgency and fraught desire; here it is lighter, more playful, with a sense of humor as it were.
Machakari should carry a statutory warning: the track is seriously addictive, and can be hazardous to listeners' health. Rahman is at his most promiscuous here, melding distinctly Arabic, jazzy, groovy, pop, and just plain Tamil love song strains with a lightness that some of us had begun to fear was going to be the first casualty of the Master's aging process. We needn't have feared: this track doesn't want to end; perhaps fittingly, its concluding seconds, which appear to be a recitation of the Tamil numbers, are the only jarring note here, almost as if the song had no place to go, and simply stopped.
When Rahman begins singing, I realize that I have truly missed his voice; I don't have the faintest idea of what he's singing in New York Nagaram, but the song is surprisingly reflective and soulful given its title: if this is an ode to New York City, I imagine it playing while one negotiates fall turning to winter, in solitude. This is the most "pop" sounding of the songs in this album, though Rahman's singing, married to an unmistakable melancholy, goes a long way toward making up for any loss one feels for the "filmi".
I don't recall having heard Carolisa's voice previously, but on the evidence of Marisam she works well in a nightclub-type setting. The song is more one-dimensional than the other tracks here, although I suspect this might be the sort of number that will grow on me with time; it contains some interesting moments (such as when the male vocals begin), as well as some that just fall flat (the irritating telephone recording voice that leads up to the male vocals). Marisam definitely has velocity, although not much richness, and I suspect would work wonderfully well as a lounge number, rather than as something to actively listen to. The biggest surprise is at the end: the track hurtles into space, concluding with a zen-like expansion, utterly spent, and distinctly reminiscent of the sort of "World Music" with which Rahman is often (unfortunately) lumped at Tower Records. I'll be curious to see what I make of this song in a few months' time.
Jillunu Oru Kadhal is almost all light dancehall jazz, souffle cabaret as imagined by a Broadway musical, filmi jazz that needs great choreography. The song is great fun, but suffers from the memory of Iruvar's seductive Hello Mr. Ethirkatchi. Even for Rahman, Iruvar is a high bar.
[Aside: are jillunu and sillunu the same word; why are they spelt differently in the song's versus the film's title? Any Tamil speakers around?]
In short: get out. Buy this album.