“You have to give Rahman’s music a chance to grow on you”. As patronising as it may sound there is some truth in that so here I am to tell you what I think- a few weeks after the release of his latest soundtrack, Highway. Of course the omens were always good. This is Rahman’s second soundtrack for Imtiaz Ali after the terrific Rockstar although that was no “masterpiece” that some fans lauded it. Anyway, if you hadn't already noticed I’ve been of the firm opinion now for the past few years that Rahman’s music has been on the slide and Highway proves just that. That’s not to say it’s all bad though…
The soundtrack begins with its piece de resistance - “Patakha Guddi” , which doesn’t need a review at all. Just sit back and listen to Rahman at his free flowing and soul-stirring best! The music is simple yet somehow creates a warm uplifting glow inside you that ripples through your body like a healing tonic...before long you're filled with joy! Maybe it's the intoxicating beats meshed with a dholak and a soothing flute but even after all these years of listening to Rahman's music, it's hard to put in words other than to say the whole thing is just magically put together. But the music is just part of the winning formula! Because the Punjabi-come-sufi-come-meditation infused lyrics by Irshad Kamil are simply out of this world almost Gulzar-esque;
(Irshad Kamil, Highway)
...incredibly soulful and touching poetry that is worthy of awards - it’s clear this talented lyricist is writing his best stuff for Rahman these days and who can blame him? Incidentally, if you are interested then do find the time to try and understand the meaning of the words (try "lyric video" edition on youtube or better still search for a translation on google) as you will truly appreciate how good they are and please don't be put off by any religious connotations, the meaning should not be taken out of context e.g. the reference to "Ali Ali Ali" is a proverb to mean meditation to your God. The sufi singing by Nooran sisters (Sultana and Jyoti) is the final ingredient and what a fantastic jodi they are; not only are their vocals unique and powerful, the sisters actually complement each other splendidly well. Overall this is the kind of song you can pick up for a fun listen or truly immerse yourself into when you are in the right kind of mood. It's pure joy and mesmerising stuff!
Unfortunately after that gem of a song (which take note: had some brilliant beats) we get some pretty average songs for the rest of the album. And yes those age old signature beats make a return that Rahman is beginning to use in most of his latest work (including Rockstar) which make the following songs sound a bit stale and boring. Firstly there’s “Maahi Ve” which is admittedly catchy and has certainly grown on me but those repetitive beats underline a lazy composition.. The highlight of the song is in fact Rahman’s own rendition which has a classy feel to it despite the obvious imperfections of his singing (which he overcomes through the use of backing vocals). Lyrics by Irshad are simple but work for this song. “Kahaan Hoon Main” starts off in epic fashion, very slow and touching thanks to some amazing vocals by Jonita Gandhi but the song quickly disintegrates with the introduction of those beats again. Why use them? Having said that this one will work well for the narrative of the film but apart from Jonita’s vocals, it’s forgettable (here's hoping Jonita gets more opportunities following this as she undoubtedly has a great voice).
“Sooha Sa” is a nice lullaby but let's be honest there's nothing new or particularly special here at all – if you want to hear the best Rahman lullabies then I suggest you go back to his discography and discover some gems that he has made in the past. But things that make “Sooha Sa” work is the fact that he uses Alia Bhatt for the singing alongside Zeb and Alia does really well given it's her first song. Lyrics are also good.
“Tu Kuja” and “Heera” are once again strictly for the film. Whilst devoid of those beats there’s still no life in these compositions beyond lending value to the narrative of the film. Maybe they will grow on you after watching the film but I very much doubt it. Highlights for me are the emotional renditions by Sunidhi Chauhan and Shweta Pandit.
In a bid to innovate, Rahman tries something different with “Wanna Mash Up” and “Implosive Silence” . The former fails miserably (particularly the rap portions) whilst the latter is an interesting listen and will work well in the film. Both will be forgotten soon.
Highway’s music is certainly off beat and lends itself to the film’s narrative so it’s very unfair to expect the music to be of the same calibre or importance as Rockstar. Yet save for the brilliant “Patakha Guddi” and the catchy "Maahi Ve", we are left with lifeless tunes which are at best; songs made for the film. But surely situational songs can sound good too so what went wrong with Highway? In a very recent interview Rahman was repeatedly asked what his favourite songs (of Highway) were…the reply lacked conviction and then eventually we got a reply; “Maahi Ve” and “Tu Kuja”..hmm I wonder how Imtiaz Ali would reply to the same question? Musically, it's certainly his weakest film by far. As for Rahman, well he gives us one of the best songs of 2014. What more could you ask for?