Evolve

Indus Creed, Unplugged: A review

Evolve
Indus Creed
Universal
Rs 175

Whoa! Indus Creed, the trailblazers of Indian rock who have both blazed the trail and trailed the blaze on the country’s soundscape, is back after a 17-year-long hiatus! And how! But, before I get to the how, let me look back at the who: A bit of the rock ‘n’ roll renegades’ history, just to freshen up your memory. Indus Creed, in its first avatar, was called Rock Machine, a sextet that was created in 1984 and featured Mahesh Tinaikar, Mark Selwyn, Ian Santamaria (vocals), Aftab Currim (rhythm guitar) and Suresh Bhadricha (drums). Soon, it went though many changes as its original members kept moving out and new ones moving in. It even changed its name and transformed into Alms for Shanti, a fusion rock band, that brought out a Hindi album, Kashmakash, in 2002. As Rock Machine, they cut two albums, Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegade in 1988, followed by The Second Coming two years later. 

Uday Benegal, who had taken over Santamaria as lead vocalist soon after the band’s inception, is perhaps the best thing to have happened to the act. In its current avatar, Indus Creed has Uday (vocals, acoustic guitar) as its frontman, with Mahesh Tinaikar (electric and acoustic guitar), Zubin Balaporia (keyboards, vocals), Rushad Mistry (bass) and Jai Row Kavi (drums) joining the pack.

Now, back to the how. If you have a soft spot for rock (and poetry, if you swing and swear by Floyd and Morrison and Dylan and Cobain and Cohen), the band’s latest album, Evolve, proves to be a revelation. A revelation you’ll revel in, and feel glad and grateful you had. After all, how often do you listen to an Indian rock band belting out tracks — not imitative, but inventive and original — that are eerily reminiscent of songs that are anthems in the world rockdom, part of the vocabulary of the legions of the genre’s admirers?

It was Indus Creed unplugged as I hit out, with headphones in place, hours after the album arrived, transported, transfixed to the strong and deep undertows of their music, getting swayed  away by, and subsumed in, the sheer expanse of their sound. Granted, much of the magic Creed weaves is due to the Grammy-nominated venerable mixing engineer Tim Palmer — who’s famously mixed tracks for musicians and acts as varied as Robert Plant, Mark Knopfler, Pearl Jam and U2 — and New York’s Andy VanDette, who’s mastered it, but, certainly, there is more to an album than its mixing and mastering works.

The trip begins with the very first track, Fireflies, that picks up pace after a soft, soothing start, with a delightful guitar riff preceding the beautiful blend of the lead male voice (Uday, sonorous), alternating between frenetic and slow pitch, and drums (Jai, astounding). The song speaks of “dancing iridescence” in someone’s eyes like “fireflies”. The repeating strain, “Oh, the sun went out today, for reasons you won’t say and I just can’t look away, from those fireflies,” with some variations in the lyrics, is delightful.

Fireflies is a suitable precursor to the fireworks the Creed strings together subsequently. Next to follow is Dissolve, a lovely ballad and the album’s longest track (7.38), that is high on lyrics: “No more to run, I am one with my destination. I surrender, my throne I disown, this is my abdication.”

The Money makes electronica enjoyable. The strain, “Why did you take the money”, is angry and rebellious and a powerful statement on corruption in the public sphere. Even though the drums make the tempo flounder at places, the track reaches its glory towards the end.

Take It Harder is the real winner. A quintessential rock track, it’s Floyd-ish in texture and feels all the more better for it. No Disgrace erupts in your ears with its progressions mixed amazingly well. Uday and Zubin make a virtue of losing the rat race: “There’s nooooooo disgrace, in loooooosing the race.” The song reaches the zenith of its beauty towards the end with the lead voice, the guitar and the drums strumming a crescendo that fades out somewhat abruptly.

Come Around is soaked in nostalgia. The guitar gently works, acoustic blending well with electric. The fusion of drum is the song’s another highlight. I loved the way Uday introduces variation with “If you come around this way, if you come around this way, say hello”.

Bulletproof (Uday, Zubin, Mahesh and Jai) is fast-paced and opens and unfurls like an explosion, with its great guitar riffs set to enthral the hardcore fan. Goodbye stands out for the variation and experimentation in guitar work as well as in the pitch of the lead voice. Together with Bulletproof, the track is a proof of just how much difference can good mixing work make. “Take a bow, the ceremony went beautifully, picture perfect, everyone had a ball,” croons Uday. Take a bow, Creed, I had a ball.

Evolve unfolds like the very best of rock albums. The eight odd tracks are electrifying, intense, addictive and groovy, with some of them growing on you each time you listen to them, and make for high-octane listening experience. In many ways, Evolve symbolises the band’s own journey and, of course, evolution from hard rock to alternative/progressive sounds.

This ambitious album, with slickly produced (what I’d call) “Eastern rock songs” seeped in a great variety of atmospherics and rooted in the realities of our land, will thrill you, and then thrill you some more. I kept flicking through the tracks, amazed and incredulous and enamoured (not to mention giving in to a  bit of head-banging), and kept rooting for Creed, as if I were at a live performance, issuing whoops of delight, their music coursing through my veins, stirring my soul.

To put it simply, Evolve is (critics should always steer clear of hyperbole, but, clearly, I can’t resist) mesmeric. It’s a well-conceived and, more importantly, well-crafted album, and I’d even go to the extent of giving a shout-out to anybody who listens: “Go, buy it.” And, that, even if you don’t have any ear for rock.