I haven’t written about music for a while now, and it isn’t surprising that the album that’s prompting me to do so is a Rahman soundtrack. Mani Ratnam's Kadal is his eleventh collaboration with the composer, and after the uneven Raavan, this is a return to form for the partnership that’s yielded Roja, Bombay and Dil Se. As far as Rahman is concerned, this is his best soundtrack since Delhi-6 back in 2009. For me personally, Kadal could not have come at a better time. It’s comforting to know that even though Sachin’s half-retired from cricket, Rahman continues to make fantastic music. Don’t ask me how the two are connected, but they are.
The music, then – and it’ll have to be just the music, because I speak no Tamil. Kadak opens with "Chithirai Nela", a bold choice, in that it’s a ballad and not very dramatic. It does have some nice singing by Vijay Yesudas, and Ranjit Barot’s percussion opens up the song a little in the latter half. If the opener’s a bit sedate, then track two, “Adiye”, is unlike anything I’ve heard by Rahman. With its rolling piano and churchy background vocals, it’s situated squarely in the gospel tradition, which has always been a part of Rahman’s music (remember “Mustafa Mustafa”?), but never front and centre. Sid Sriram’s vocal is powerful as hell, and thankfully free of melismas.
After “Moongil Thottam”, which has some nice harmonies, “Elay Keechan” announces itself with a shout, a simple, sunny guitar figure and two-part humming (why don’t songs have humming any more?). 'Kadal' means ‘sea’ in Tamil, and “Elay Keechan”, sung by Rahman himself, is apparently a variation on traditional fishing songs from the region. Even if it isn't, it hardly matters, because the song is really about freedom, the way that similarly unfettered Rahman songs like “Awara Bhawrein” and “Choti Si Asha” are about freedom. If there’s a classic on the album, it’s probably this.
“Nenjukkule”, more than any of the other tracks, made me wish I understood the lyrics. The words sound loving, but not untouched by humour – but perhaps I’m just describing the music (strumming, a tasteful string arrangement) and the unaffected singing of Shakthisree Gopalan. "Anbin Vaasale" is next, a stirring piece of chorus singing, rather like “Bharat Hum Ko Jaan Se Pyaara Hai” without the gloom (amusingly, the short lead vocal is by Haricharan, whom Wikipedia lists as ‘not to be confused with Hariharan’). The closer, “Magudi Magudi”, is the only song on the album that couldn’t have been made more than a few years back, with its EDM-y foundation and percussive rapping by Sri Lanka’s Aaryan Dinesh Kanagaratnam. (MIA should be stealing it sometime soon.) The rest of Kadal is mostly timeless – a quality that’s unfair to expect regularly from anybody but AR Rahman.