Every once in a blue moon comes a soundtrack that pushes the envelope. One that takes convention and turns it on its head. Loy Mendonsa, Ehsaan Noorani and Shankar Mahadevan did this with Dil Chahta Hai in 2001, a vibrant, fresh sound that typified Bollywood's move into urbanity.
And while Dil Chahta Hai was superfun -- that didgeridoo was clutterbreaking to the extreme -- it coloured within the lines. Ballads, male bonding songs, sad songs. And since then, the trio has been largely caught up with the highly paying world of formula NRI cinema.
Now, the three bounce onto the charts with their finest work, an album dripping with coolth. Johnny Gaddaar is a delightfully harebrained work showing off extreme musical maturity. This is the soundtrack that breaks all the rules, the three buddies reveling in the recklessness director Sriram Raghavan gives them. This is what Modesty Blaise would dance to, an album of lunatic retro genius.
Ten seconds into the insanely addictive title track and you're taken into a strange land. A land of 1970s larger-than-life cinema, Quentin Tarantino and superslick noir. This is gloriously pulp music, bouncy and rocking. Suraj Jagan's fresh voice perfectly complements Jaideep Sahni's twisty lyrics -- chhoti si zindagi gehri si jeb hai, baaki to jaaneman baaton ke seb hai -- while Akruti Kakkar sings badly. Then again the Bond-ish track seems to demand an overdone crooner. A stunning track, this Johnny gaddaar.
It's the kind that you want to play on endless loop. But trust the composers and move on; they've been clever.
The mad title track barely dies down when you're accosted with hiss from the speakers, going mega-retro in Move your body for a couple of lines before the bass kicks in. It sounds like just another club track, but that saucy opening riff -- and the harmonium -- makes all the difference. The lyrics (by someone named Hardkaur) are banal to the hilt, but S-E-L take the mike themselves with elan and have a blast and that 'doob jaa mere pyaar mein' refrain is killer.
Dhoka is straight out of the maddest of Bollywoodland cabaret. Nilesh Mishra's lyrics embrace the mood, and Anousha Mani and Tarannum do well, with Shankar and Loy backgrounding for them. Just picture Zeenat Aman and Hema Malini wearing leopard-prints and parading for the villains before the swashbuckling heroes jump in.
Johnny in the house takes the title track and Houses it in rather hardcore manner, adding a hard synth bassline and reverb'ing up the vocals. The composers obviously have a ball redoing the chorus and playing with the echo and flanger. The result is a perfectly clubbable number that interestingly seems to emphasise just the lyrics you missed first time around. A trifle too long, but then the DJs would appreciate that elbow room.
The Move your body (Phatt Mix) is interesting but doesn't offer too much of a radical shift from the original. Again, is longer.
Now this is a great use of jargon. Johnny breakbeat mera naam, kicking off with a classic Johnny Mera Naam quote, takes the title-track's groove into the heavily-syncopated world of breakbeat, where every beat revolves around a 4/4 pattern. With dialogue samples like they used in Don, S-E-L go further out on a limb here and wrap the words around tasty guitar licks and sinister synth-progressions. And Sudhir's distinctive 'Johnny' yell makes this an instant classic.
Revenge of the 70s, starts off very similar to The White Stripes' Conquest, minus the Dharmendra voice of course. Once it hits this trumpeted high, it breaks free and regurgitates traditionally Bollywood feel, echoing sounds from Shaan and Great Gambler and Jewel Thief. It's the sound of multistarrers, of 10 men being beaten up by a lanky pair of legs, of furious Impala-only car chases. Awesome.
The caper begins picks up where Revenge left off, a moody yet completely retro feeling track evoking visuals of sinister conspiracies, villains with red-lit lairs and otherwise melodramatic women exposed as double-crossers. And while perfectly suitable for Jeetendra and Vinod Khanna, this well-crafted track is an extremely modern piece that could fit into a current caper flick. Um, as it aims to, I guess.
Toss continues in the vein, coming close to being inspired from Lalo Schifrin shrilly Mission Impossible theme, but is yet another tremendously fun instrumental.
Pull on the fez and bring out the hookahs for Confidence, a track desperately demanding pink-veiled belly dancers writhing on a mirrored floor even as large-collared men wear big sunglasses and exchange mysterious suitcases. Man, is this a fun album.
Voila, the mood changes dramatically with Bhule bisre geet, starting with vocalist Sabeeha's fab throwback to those great nasally singers of the black and white era, and intrigue-heavy lyrics. The tablas enhance the feel of the 'tik-tik-tik' lyrics but the track shifts without warning, still retro but now cabaret, the cha-cha touch added by singer Geetanjali. Then, as it transitions into a Kishoreda style ballad, (the male vocals by the song's lyricist Swanand Kirkire) and you realise just how much the composers are freaking out over this little Chitrahaar track.
And so it is we return to Johnny gaddaar and Move your body, two tracks not remixed but resung, each appearing in a Tamil and Telugu flavour. And here's where Move your body really gains steam.
It's a stroke of genius to change nothing but the language, and while the lyrics might now be alien to us, the energy seems amplified dozen-fold. The Telugu Move coasts on the language's natural rhythm, but the Tamil version really gets the adrenalin flowing. This is a super track.
As for Johnny himself, he could have done without the redubbing. The words sound profoundly mysterious in Telugu (and the vocals are better) while the Tamil chorus has a very jazzy sound to it, but the track stays basically the same.
It's an idiosyncratic, peculiarly fun idea to listen to two songs in several avatars over the course of one album, drumming two great tracks into our heads with stylish verve and distinctively different flavours.
See, told you it's wise to un-loop that fantastic opening track. If the movie is as good as the album, we have something special ahead of us.