Early last month, Strings announced that they would be marking their 30th anniversary with eight singles for their upcoming album 30 one after the other in the coming weeks. That understandably had us all excited, especially those basking in the musical nostalgia that was epitomised by the local rock scene a decade and a half ago.
A little over a month on, and Strings have released two singles Sajni and Urr Jaon, in that order. Those two releases have been garnering positive reviews almost unanimously, and one can’t quite say that the response has exactly been merited.
When Sajni came out in mid-March, one could feel the rustiness in a track that wasn’t quite out of the top drawer of the Strings repertoire. And even though the Yasir Jawal video is well shot, and can be called a decent visual production, it doesn’t quite salvage the one thing that the song clearly lacked: the Strings that we’ve loved, and longed for, in either half of the aforementioned three decades.
Sajni is straight out of the 90s punk, think Fugazi, Rancid – or even Blink 182 or Green Day – from the early 90s, when they all were starting off, with the straight out of college ‘sound’. But now we have two middle aged men trying to pull that off, when even their much younger versions didn’t quite tread near that line thirty years ago.
If you watch Sajni on YouTube, you might see Chaaye Chaaye or Mera Bichraa Yaar in ‘Up Next’. And clicking on either would make you realise just how far the track is from the Strings of old.
Sajni wants to have the same punch as Chaaye Chaaye – or Soniye – and the video has more than just a touch of Mera Bichra Yaar, but doesn’t come close to achieving a quarter of either.
Also, “Sajni main teray gun gaawan, tu meri thandi chhaawan – main Ranja tu hai Heer” isn’t exactly the best chorus Anwar Maqsood will ever write, even if the song was meant to be a ‘fun’ track.
But one could understand if the first Strings single after ages appears to be underwhelming. Music, the world over, has evolved over the past decade and a half, and if we were really longing for the early 2000s Strings, it is perhaps more a case of the abovementioned nostalgia and not the urge for a soundtrack that merits a standing of its in 2018 – without any strings attached.
However, when Urr Jaoon came out last week, one began to fear the worst: have Strings lost their touch?
The music construction is over-simplistic, with none of the layered guitar-work that Bilal Maqsood of his heyday was more than capable of. Considering the theme of the video – and ostensibly the song – is abuse of domestic workers, one can’t simply shun the mundane rhythm and notes as one would for a ‘fun’ track.
Again, Jami’s video is half decent, but since the track – for which the video is created in the first place – falls flat, the final effect cannot be mustered.
Also, while Sajni has Faisal Kapadia’s vocals, which can singlehandedly salvage tracks even if they are dead elsewhere, Bilal Maqsood can’t do the same unless the melody is spot on, or the track has more
punk. Perhaps the two could’ve switched vocals for the respective tracks, which would’ve increased the combined end product.
But that is not what we have. What we do have are two tracks that would struggle to get into either Duur or Dhaani and would at best make up the filler in Koi Aanay Wala Hai. The contrast is too prodigious for these two tracks to be juxtaposed with anything from the first two albums, which are the point of origin for 30 that marks the band’s three decade long career.
The fact that this has come at the back of Strings five year stint with Coke Studio, which produced mixed results – especially at the tail-end – is inadvertently putting up questions on whether the group is invested in their music considering that they’ve been international bestsellers and have nothing much left to prove anymore.
It is this billing and the already discussed nostalgia that has given Sajni and Urr Jaoon the raving reviews that they have received, more than the tracks themselves. They won’t get too many second listens if they didn’t have the Strings label, and in a hypothetical scenario, won’t take the band too far in any modern day battle of the bands.
Are we been unfair to Strings considering how much they’ve achieved and given us over the years? Perhaps.
Is this a rant from a disappointed Strings fan who has been underwhelmed with what the group has come up with after a decade? Perhaps.
But considering all the lyrical that is being waxed over tracks that won’t make any Top 20 list of Strings tracks, perhaps there is a need to balance things out.
However, what is also a reality is the fact that we’re a quarter of a way into the promised eight tracks for 30. So Strings have six more songs to put this rant in its place.