With Pagal, Ali Noor and a slew of musicians create an audio-visual landscape that is both laudable and approachable.
“Fate will play us out/With a song of pure romance/Stomp your feet and clap your hands.” – ‘Let’s Kill Tonight’ by Panic! at the Disco
Long gone are the early and unusually optimistic days of Noori. Their last album that contained ‘Aik Tha Badshah’ – the single version – was the direction they needed to follow. But as Noori admitted then, the album contained songs that had been written nearly a decade ago. Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh (BGBS) was good and upon reflection made it palpable that greater things were still going to come.
As brothers Ali Noor and Ali Hamza took a hiatus from Noori to explore solo careers – even as they admit that the band is very much alive and will come back – Hamza went his own way, working with Kami Paul and Rakae Jamil for his solo record, which is in the pipeline. Ali Noor also went a different way.
A life-threatening ailment from which he has thankfully recovered also contributed to the songwriting process. Before that, the animated film, Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor allowed someone who had become a dormant songwriter (Ali Noor) to start writing songs again. It restarted with ‘Allahyar Bol’ – a song that has not been given enough applause given it’s context, the relationship between God and children.
Fast forward to 2020 and almost every musician had to adapt to the coronavirus. And so did Ali Noor but unlike Noori - where he plays multiple roles - Ali Noor assembled a “motley crew” of people who helped him in letting go of the controlling musician to create an EP that speaks of Noor’s current narrative and personal experiences, past and present.
The story begins with ‘Banjo’, where the lyrics and the music video say it all.
‘Banjo’ follows the people involved heavily in Pagal, such as Ahsan Pervaiz, Kami Paul, Kumail Jaffery and several others following Noor and telling him to make a song. It’s whimsical and sweet at the same time. Banjo was meant to be an abusive word but while playing in front of an audience that include young children, Ali Noor decided to name the song ‘Banjo’ recommended to him by an RJ.
‘Banjo’ is a credulous request - in a sense to stop – to stop whining about lack of new music and following the old school motto of do it yourself. The music video ends on the perfect note as Noor joins the musicians while singing the song and opening the door to Pagal.
‘Banjo’ echoes the idea that appeared in bits and pieces in Noor’s earlier work and an interest in the changing sound became palpable on ‘Allahyar Bol’ and ‘Aik Tha Badshah’ (single version with its dubstep-meets-rock flavour).
“So, here comes a delivery/Straight from the heart of my misery/So, here comes a delivery/Straight from my heart to you.” – ‘Delivery’ by Babyshambles
What followed ‘Banjo’ are electro-rock, thumping bass stories. The darkest, inner questions and self-reflection is wondered upon in ‘Pagal’; an unbreakable love is present on ‘Teray Saath’; ‘Nasha’ is where the presence and wonder of inebriation is given a twist while Noor is dancing in a never-before-seen-fashion. ‘Nai Marna’ is a meditation on dying while ‘Gavo’ feels like an introspective, non-alpha male elegy.
What’s most powerful is how each song is backed by music that complements its larger context. In ‘Nasha’, for instance, the music video feels like a psychedelic trip and hits a whole new level of new given the way the artists featured and in particular Ali Noor behave, as if they’re letting go of everything while having some fun. But things never hit a point of being unnecessarily sordid or at all. The music videos of ‘Pagal’ and ‘Nai Marna’ retain a sense of calm seriousness and the performance by Ali Noor and Crew is commiserating a deeper misery that people go through life with. Open to interpretations, these songs throw a cerebral question at us but doesn’t provide complete answers.
This is Ali Noor, which means making songs anthemic enough for a concert also comes naturally to him. What has been added is a stronger textural layer of synthesizers and electronica instead of Noori’s drum-guitar-bass-keys sonic landscape.
At the same time, the songs are not so ambiguous or ambivalent that they will be approachable to a mere few. Ali Noor and Noori maybe two different entities but the man in both has that as an innate ability to lend himself to the creation of open-ended, flowing tracks that appeal almost instantaneously. With the likes of Ahsan Pervaiz, the multi-talented Kami Paul and the younger Kumail Jaffery, he was able to create songs that are designed with the changing musical trend in the world without pandering to anyone.
Ali Noor also doesn’t take producer credit or songwriter credit. The album is a depiction of collaborations with several audio-visual artists, all of whom are acknowledged by Noor. It’s good to see him relinquish control and delve deeper in the self. And for this effort, he gets full marks. Objections overruled.