The impeccable return of Strings
It is a milestone. It is experimental. It is reinvention. It is the comeback of the two most talented men Pakistan has ever produced. Koi Aanay Wala Hai is a masterpiece, one that reintroduces us to Strings in a new avatar.
By Maheen Sabeeh
The fifth element
Koi Aanay Wala Hai is the most impeccable album in markets right now, the only one that is as brilliant in its sound, concept and creation as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's Charkha.
A turn of the decade is what Koi Aanay Wala Hai is for Strings, the most consistent musical act of Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood, who have never failed to surprise us.
Their latest, the gorgeous and thoroughly conceived video of their comeback single, 'Koi Aanay Wala Hai' that features John Abraham, looking his best as an angel, was a sign of things to come.
Startling effects, cloudy skies, an innocent love and Strings looking suave, stylish and perfectly coordinated in black suits, singing and playing guitar in their element, and that too in the skyscraping surroundings of Kuala Lumpur, it was the perfect pitch to tell their fans that they were back, indeed.
The now-monster hit has Faisal trooping along with natural ease to Anwar Maqsood's words, "Dhadkan Keh Rahi Ha/Yaha Koi Aanay Wala Hai/Sawan Keh Raha Hai/Badal Koi Chaanay Wala Hai" while the song is one that grows on you, slowly and steadily.
A sing-along factor persists throughout, a riff-rock treatment, and the biggest asset of the band, Faisal's voice, that never lets you down with Bilal sings softly 'Koi Aanay Wala Hai' as chorus hits, its an impressive beginning.
Now together for 18 years, this is a band that has miraculously avoided repetition on their records. It is as if Strings pick up an idea and 50 seconds later steamroll it on their way to a new concept and that is what they have done with Koi Aanay Wala Hai.
The wall of sound
If one were to define this album in one word, it would be 'masterpiece'. And that is because this is an album where 12 songs are woven together so artfully that one can't help but just marvel at the Strings.
And here is why Koi Aanay Wala Hai is a milestone for Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia. The band has retained their signature but for the most part, the album is an out and out experiment, which is not easy. Because by the fifth album, listeners tend to expect a certain sound. To take a 360-degree turn at this stage of their careers, it shows courage. It is the kind of step that has reaffirmed faith in the band once again.
Koi Aanay Wala Hai can be divided into two parts.
One, edgy, abrasive over-the-top rock songs that can play lesson to other aspiring rock acts (and current existing ones) and two, beautiful, soulful poppy tunes that remains the forte of Strings.
From the infectious 'Koi Aanay Wala' to the celebratory air of 'Aik Do Teen', the soft gloom of 'Titliyan', the introspective 'Sonay Do' and the excellent wake-up call of 'Jago' there is not a single flaw on this album.
Anwar Maqsood deserves equal applause for improving to such a level from last time that he just stuns you. And yes, there are still phrases like 'Badal, Ghata' and some of the other usual suspects but they blend so well with Faisal's inimitable vocals that one can't complain.
For the most part, the album remains positive and that is delightful. Rock music tends to get morbid, which eventually makes it tedious and sometimes forgettable.
And yes, it is also a rock album, in most places. And not the kind of monotonous album that has a mind-numbing number of riffs placed at equal distance. But mature rock that will remain embedded in memories as a classic.
It is present on the bouncy 'Aik Do Teen' with its jubilance that hits you in the soul while the words tell you a magical story about a fairy with a wand. If granted a wish, what would it be? It starts off from materialism and eventually ends at a better world as the wordplay goes, "Aik Do Teen/Kaisa Badla Scene/Dunya Thee Haseen/Jo Maanga Sab Tha/Har Basti Mein Ujala Tha/Haaton Mein Niwala Tha".
Faisal sings with such enjoyment and precision that he takes you inside the world of this story because it is written with such depth that imagination can almost paint a picture inside your head.
Move on to 'Jago' and one finds scorching guitars, a glimpse of hope and Bilal's energetic call to wake-up and see the world.
'Jab Logon Mein Tera Dil Ghabraye/To Tum Khud He Se Poocho/Kyun Tarey Raistey Hain Uljhay/Tum Un Par Daikho Chal Kai/Jag Utho Dekho" – what a pleasant concoction of rock and pop seamlessly woven together.
The blistering rock continues with the re-worked versions of 'Jab Bhi Mein (Strings 2) and 'Jab Say Tumko' (Strings). And this is exactly how songs should be re-worked.
Both tunes get massive makeovers even as the melody remains the some. And usually that can kill the song. 'Qaraar' re-done on Ali Haider's last album Jaanay Do and 'Khwab' re-done by Salman Ahmed on Deewar are two prime examples about how re-worked versions can go wrong.
Thankfully no such problem comes here.
Jagged guitars, stimulating keyboards, and a lot more energy than the first time, 'Jab Bhi Mein' is in one word, rocking.
'Jab Say Tumko' is even funkier - the most out there, meatiest number Strings have done, ever. Assaulting riffs, Faisal Kapadia's vocals passionate and very different on most parts – slightly hypnotic and twisted around admirably – and drums sequenced to a perfect sound to match the loud guitars – what a reinvention it really is.
Now it can be understood where Strings have been for five years.
They were creating rock magic and making sure at the same time that old pop fans don't get disappointed.
Hence we find numbers like 'Sonay Do', Titliyan', 'Hum Safar' and 'Keh Dia' and they tell us why Strings are the kings of pop.
The magic of Bilal's light vocals on 'Sonay Do', the level of optimism is not lost. And it has to be said that 'Sonay Do' is to Koi Aanay Wala Hai what 'Khirki' was to Duur. The main difference remains the musical treatment and the tone, which remains positive. The subtle instrumentation that creates a mood of tranquility and simplicity is top-notch.
And the feeling of is surrealism comes with Bilal calmly singing, "Neeli dhoop ki kirnay/Haathon mein rakhta hoon/mujhay urtay hee janay hai/Yeh manzar kya suhana hai/Aankh lagi to dunya badli ho/Sonay Do".
'Sonay Do' is a song is one that almost anyone can relate to. The catchphrase, "Aankh lagi to dunya badli ho/Sonay Do" is so true to these rapidly changing times.
'Hum Safar' which is next in line for a video, at the able hands of Jami (shot in Moscow) is the gentle ballad of this ambitious record with a wailing guitar, engaging ambience, and fierce emotions with an emotive Faisal Kapadia singing as stunning studio wizardry makes its mark. It's a beautiful tune. And equally beautiful is 'Keh Dia' that celebrates falling in love, joyful moments that come through from "Haee Ya", a subtle guitar playing in the background, while 'Titliyan' with its sonorous flute, bluesy tortuous guitar and lush instrumentation and two voices that compliment each other flawlessly is incredible.
'Hum Hee Hum' is not as excellent as the rest of the 11 tracks. It is, however, a cut above average. Confident, self-assuring tune that falls in the traditional category of straight-up pop rock. A video is already out vis-a-via Mobilink tie-up. And while it is a corporate video, it does match to the mood of the song, which is reflective of hopeful, happy youngsters.
The last two songs on the album, 'Zinda' – that was created for Sanjay Dutt-John Abraham starrer Zinda - and 'Aakhri Alvida' – that was made for Sanjay Dutt-produced Shootout at Lokhandwala featuring the mighty Dutt himself alongside Vivek Oberoi – bring the album to a fitting end.
It was a smart call to put these two tunes on this album because they gel well with the rest of the songs like two pieces that complete a puzzle.
Whether it is 'Aakhri Alvida' with its haunting undertones, mournful guitars weaving a gloomy world of uncertainty and goodbye or the lingering effect of 'Zinda', both songs belong to the album.