So, young Harsha. I swore to you once that if your new record sucked, I’d personally come down and set you on fire. I’m going to keep my promise: once I’m done writing this, I’m ringing the butler for kerosene, a box of matches, and a train ticket to where you live.
Okay, forget I said “sucked”. It doesn’t suck per se, not the way James Blunt or Hoobastank or any of those other merchants of mush suck. But you’re dangerously near, and what galls me isn’t what your record is, but what it might have been, and isn’t.
What gives, boy? You made such an impression with that neat little gem that was Curious Toys; why would you go and squander all that hard-earned goodwill with something that feels like the musical equivalent of a kitsch dealers’ basement?
Because that’s what When it’s Time is: and all the bells and whistles you’ve smothered it with will never hide the fact that, underneath, there’s nothing you can sink your teeth into.
And that’s a terribly dreary thing to have to discover.
Where’s the humour, Harsha? Where’s the neatness? The artistic focus? Were you so taken in with the idea of your own Brian Wilson masterpiece that you didn’t stop to think if your little acoustic songs would survive the oppression of those suffocating, plastic arrangements? What’s your game, are you trying to prove to the world that you were better than all those scrappy kids with electric guitars who dwell in my beloved Madras Underbelly?
If that’s the idea, then let me tell you this: it’s the easiest thing in the world today to slap ten violins, three cellos, a brass section, and a donkey’s arse on to a record. But you can’t polish a turd, as they say, and, if your songs aren’t up to speed, no amount of grand-sounding studio trickery will ever save them. That’s the trouble, Harsha: you can have an entire orchestra come oozing out of your computer at the press of a button these days, but there is still no substitute for vision.
It’s good to be ambitious, and you were perfectly right to push yourself beyond the limits of your first album. And, what’s more, you should aim for precisely that, again, and again, and again. But don’t be fooled by the tools you have on hand, because you, like so many musicians now, have access to a whole universe of sounds and instruments: and that might just be more than you know what to do with.
Big isn’t always beautiful, and size doesn’t equal substance. Cack-handed preaching about alcoholic lovers will never be poetry, glittering musical bits and bobs will not replace the art of arrangement.
I know what you were dreaming of, Harsha: that this would be the great, grand musical wonder with whose help you’d leave the scruffy world of rock ‘n’ roll and come into your own as a composer of classical proportions. But guess what? What you have on your hands is as flat as a two-bit high-school drama: a lot of textbook tricks for making something sound big and serious, without the muscle to really be so.
You’re a fucking talented lad and you know it. Now, don’t let your ambition cloud your judgement. Ease up a bit, yes? Dick around, let your imagination do the talking, not your career-conscious waking mind. A lot of people will tell you that When it’s Time is “lush” and “sweeping” and “profound” and all of those things which every artist who plays around with horns and strings secretly wants to hear. But “sweeping” is no good when you wind up getting swept nowhere: punch above your weight the next time, H., this trick is too easy.