Kailasa is a tough act to follow, even (especially?) if you are the group responsible for it. And a lot of listeners will likely be disappointed with Kailasa Jhoomo Re, Kailasa's second album. Disappointed, that is, if they expect more in the vein of Kailasa -- but this album courageously attempts to do something other than resting on past laurels. In particular, Kailasa ramp down the group's biggest musical asset and selling point, the singular voice of its lead singer and talisman, Kailash Kher. Unlike in the previous album, Kher's voice here is embedded in the music that is to say that it is part of a group that is making music -- in Kailasa one got the distinct impression that the music was simply a "back-up" to Kher's remarkable vocals (one of the reasons I disagreed with those who said Kailasa was the best album of 2006; it certainly had some of the best vocals and songs, but as an exercise in musicmaking it was not comparable to Omkara, or to either Rang de Basanti or Guru -- yet surely no musical experience last year was as intense, as relentlessly focused as "Teri Deewani"). Kailasa Jhoomo Re is a musical step forward for Kailasa, in terms of orchestration, production values, and in terms of understanding how to harness Kher's voice in the service of a wider musical whole. Is the experience overall less memorable than Kailasa? Yes -- but it gives me more grounds for optimism than Kailasa did, for it shows that this group is not a one-trick pony. And that it has more to do than simply set Kher's voice to music. Acknowledgment is thus due to the other members of Kailasa, in a way that didn't seem obvious after the first album: Naresh and Paresh Kamath, Kurt Peters, Sanket Athale, Rinku Rajput, Sameer Chiplunkar, Debyajyoti Dutta, Sankarshan Kini, and Tejasvi Rao.
Kailash Kher at his most memorable is always a bit disturbing: this is true of the wrenching "Teri Deewani" from Kailasa, where both the lyrics and Kher's vocals are a bit too insistent for comfort, and of the apocalyptic "Mangal Mangal" from Mangal Pandey. This is also true of Babam Bam, the song that kicks off Kailasa Jhoomo Re, and that seems to be cut from a very different cloth from everything else in the album. The track is a hymn to Lord Shiva (and briefly to Parvati as well), and its highly repetitive rhythm, somewhat sparse instrumentation, and incantatory monotone are entirely consistent with the uncanniness I associate with that deity. This doesn't make for light listening, but is a song that compels the listener's attention -- again and again.
Saiyyan is the first of five "love ballads" in the album, but is easily the most memorable. Kher's voice oozes pathos in this song, almost as if for him, to have loved is the same thing as to have lost. A sentiment that tugs at the listener without coming across as merely sentimental, and that survives some incongrously peppy instrumentation smack in the middle of the song. Saiyyan is also a good occasion to highlight the role of the lyricist in helping create the album's effect: the poetry is conventional but never jaded or frivolous. Kailasa takes love and loss seriously, and it shows.
The next song, Joban Chalke, is the nearest this album comes to going tapori, and if it shares a certain rhythm in common with "Tauba Tauba", think of this as the scruffier, more lecherous brother of that earnest lover. But as everywhere in this album, sobriety is retained by virtue of the fact that Kher never lets himself go with his trademark (illusion of) abandon. Joban Chalke is easily the catchiest song in the album.
My mouth started salivating when I saw Chaap Tilak printed on the album's cover: Amir Khusrau's poetic representation of the deranging effect of love on its victim is one of the most influential love poems in North Indian history, its marriage of Radha-Krishna imagery and eroticism to the Sufi trope of saint ("nizam") and devotee a supremely successful example of eclecticism. Kailasa wisely do not attempt to match Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's intensity in rendering this classic, but it was nevertheless a shock to hear the group adopt an approach so very laid back to poetry that is about the abasement and transcendence of devotion. At first, I was disappointed, but something about Kailasa's interpretation drew me back to this track, and in time it grew on me. This Chaap Tilak is quieter, more reflective than the usual renditions of Khusrau's poem, but no less serious. Devotion (the trope that links love to religion) is serious business here, far removed from the preceding, playful, Joban Chalke.
Tere Naina bears a faint kinship to the classic "Tere Mere Milan Ki Ye Raina" from Anand, and, along with Daulat Shohrat two tracks later, as well as the two concluding tracks -- Yaar Sajan and Tu Meri Jaan Hai -- is a very soulful and effective love ballad. Kher is wonderfully restrained here, and these four tracks testify to his growing maturity as a vocal artiste, able to inhabit more musical registers than simply the urgent. The song sandwiched between the first two in this set, Jhoomo Re, never lives up to its initial promise, although the speedy lines ending in "Ram Ram" are addictively catchy (albeit somewhat derivative of "Tauba Tauba" from the first album). I have a personal weakness for the Sufiana lyrics here, which speak of worldy renunciation, the sterility of religious practice that focuses solely on material symbols, and of course bring to mind the transporting power of music and dance -- I prefer to think of this as the real Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
The four "love ballads" I have mentioned above tend to shade into each other (especially Yaar Sajan and Tu Meri Jaan Hai), and this listener continues to have difficulty discerning the distinctive personality of each of them. But whatever this means for the individuality of these songs, it does contribute to the relatively seamless musical architecture of this album. Kailasa was brilliant, but it often felt less like an album than a compendium of Kher's greatest hits; Kailasa Jhoomo Re is far more of a musical whole. I eagery await the group's third album.