Monday, 13 October 2008

Nitin Sawhney - London Undersound (Cooking Vinyl 2008)

The problem with Nitin Sawhney is his amazing abilities as a musician. He is a true virtuoso of guitar, tabla, sound-desks and orchestrating sounds. With his abilities comes an earnestness and lack of humour that leaves him looking a little poe-faced at times, despite his passionate political slant on every album. The main problem also lies in the fact that he's so talented he assumes he can throw everything into the pot when making his albums. Since the coherent and definitive work that was 'Broken Skin', he has gotten more and more ambitious with what he wishes to create with his albums and instead of honing his sound, he ends up throwing in a mish-mash, a :gulp: melting pot of influences and fusions that don't always work together. Take the song, 'My Soul featuring the one and only Sir Paul McCartney- once you get over the fact that Macca is singing on the song, you realise that his wobbly vocals don't fit with the ethereal feminine Indian wails and whispers. The press always hold Nitin up as an Asian pioneer of the cross-over, a true product of the melting pot experiment and he has become part of the music establishment of this country, being a taste-maker and archetype of British Asian music, which is great but he needs to remember how to make albums.

The main problem with this album is that half of it is brilliant, true Sawhney genius, pulsing somewhere between Massive Attack trip hop and State of Bengal drum'n'bass, the club sound. He can certainly direct a female vocal and this is where his strength lies. It gets weaker when he tries to make it sound too pop. Much has been said of Natty's 'Days of Fire' and while it is an emotional paean to a city ripped apart by violence, and Natty certainly has the credentials to talk about events seeing as he was only a train away from Jean Charles de Menezes, but it doesn't fit in with tracks such as 'Charu Keshi' a gorgeous ode to the sitar and its melodic intensity. I can see what Sawhney is trying to achieve by juxtaposing pop and classical Indian music and what this potentially means for the music but it doesn't work. If he sat down to write a pop album, and he has of sorts with Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, he would make a decent job of it. And if he sat down to write an ethereal political sombre album steeped in trip hop, flamenco and classical music he would sound like the Sawhney we all know and love, and much as he's trying to move on and increase his repertoire, it's a little uneasy. This album has been celebrated as a direct response to the 7/7 bombings, and in places, its emotion, unease and political heart are laid on the line, but musically the mish-mash of styles and uneasy juxtaposition of pop and classical don't work for me.

There are some strong gorgeous tracks here, like the aforementioned Anoushka Shankar duet; all Tina Grace's (long-time collaborator) efforts, like the serene and sad 'October Daze; and 'Ek Jaan' an explosion of intensity and string-laden love. I don't mean to criticise such an obviously talented musician, and an established British Asian musician, but this is two albums fighting for space and this is no Undersound, it's not the underground spirit of youth, it's about a man getting older but losing none of the fight. He's still relevant, he's still talented and he's still vital but this is too much of a mixed bag.

Official Sawhney

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