I’m writing this review in real time. There is a reason why. I have no idea what the hell Fire Exit is. I’ve never heard their music. I’ve never heard of them. I don’t approach them with a preconceived notion of what their music might be. Or what they look like. Or sound like. “Fire Exit-OKBye!” is an unopened zip file that’s there on my desktop, offering promise or peril. A classic Schrodinger’s cat, this.
So, I see the artwork. Good news here. It’s five Indian kids who look like Indian kids clearly under no illusion that they are not white-working class redneck truckers. And what’s this? A cover that displays a Tata truck?
So let’s start. The first song in any album, especially debut albums, has to be the most radio friendly. Think ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ and even – sadly – ‘Ice Ice Baby’. So, right on cue, we have ‘Waiting For’, with a bass-guitar doodle reminding me of ‘By the way’. Singer Subhadra has a smooth, if not terribly distinctive voice. The shakers and tupperware percussion works very well. The song builds slowly, propelled by the sound of a good hard pick on a bass (or at least it sounds like that). I like this first song. I LIKE IT!! It’s distinctive, with a smooth-jazz attention to arrangement. Unfortunately, things slide a little bit from here on.
‘Poison Ivy’ is let down by the guitar riffing. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but it’s not delivered with conviction and feel. Further, I found the tabla and guitar jugalbandi to be a bit forced. That said, the idea itself is a good one, and deserves a second go. Same is the problem with ‘The Spark’. It is a good song let down by a slight lack of conviction in the riffing.
But don’t worry guys. One of the best albums of last decade By the Way, went by without nary a heavy riff to be heard. In fact, I think that’s a good starting point for this music. This is a mellow rock record, and I like it for its lack of pretention. It’s By the Way’s melodic bits + Porcupine Tree guitars + sincere vocals. Vox Subhadra does not have a voice that’s out of this world, but I realize that she really makes you want to listen to the lyrics. It’s all well thought out, if not particularly original lyrics, delivered with a soothing croon and yes, sincerity. A bit like Alanis Morissette stripped of the penis envy, then. She is the band’s big strength.
By the time ‘Heroes’ came along though, I realized that there is another problem. The tabla here is a bit like having an oboe in a metal band. He comes in sometimes, but then just sort of peters out. My suggestion, guys: either incorporate the tabla better in ALL the rhythms, or don’t bother. The song otherwise is quite nice, led by a nice little finger-picked guitar riff.
Now, usually the reason why tabla won’t fit into such a band is simply because the rest of the instruments are completely western and played in a western sort of way. Fusion almost seems like a dirty word. ‘MML’ seeks to redress this balance, led as it is with a bass riff attempting an Indian raga facsimile. I was hopeful this would be the track where the tabla player would redress the chronic underuse and under incorporation of his instrument. He manages it only partially, with a short solo section and and an intro, while the band slips comfortably back into the comforting arms of AOR accessibility. My point stands.
But I’ll be an optimist, though. This is a good start. It is not a meteor shooting through the night sky, but it is a gentle cloud with a special tint. I do think that the template for this band is set. They have an AOR sound with Porcupine Tree/John Mayer like production, and emphasis on songs and melodies and thought out lyrics. All good. But despite the smooth vocal-jazz like production, a few rough edges remain. The tabla and the lack of great riffs is a jarring point. The Chili Peppers counteract this by having Flea lay down some bitchin’ bass riffs. A bit more rock would be welcome. More crunch on the bass would also add some balls too, compared to the current wandering hippo sound. Finally, more memorable melodies would set these guys well on their way. So in the final totting up, this sounds quite right.
– El Bajista
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