The New Delhi alt rockers’ sophomore album is a strong, worthy release from one of the capital’s most talented bands.
menwhopause is a band that understands that when it comes to rock and roll, the myth is as important as the music. Formed in 2001, the quintet was one of the first Indian rock groups to play only original music. In fact, the only cover they’ve played is a version of John Cage’s ‘4.33’ (which is four minutes and 33 seconds of silence). They borrowed their name from guitarist Anup Kutty’s quiz team in college, though in the tried and tested tradition of messing with the press, they’ve recently been trying out new stories explaining their origins. One Hyderabad journalist was fed a story about a neurotic poet who carved the name ‘menwhopause’ on his thigh in an act of drug-fuelled frenzy. Bassist Randeep Singh was the band’s first official fan before he worked his way into the band, and acoustic guitarist Inder Pal Singh is a puppeteer by profession who decided to “put an end to conformist life” by burning all his educational qualifications after college. What all this adds up to is a back story that would make a music PR person jump with joy. But even the most rock and roll origin story is useless without great music to back it up. So does the music live up to the hype?
Mostly yes, as it turns out. menwhopause play likeable adult alternative that channels The Beatles and The Doors through a late-’90s alt-rock filter. They’re not interested in genre-bending experimentation or pushing new sounds. But, as we noted in our review of their Blue Frog show, what sets menwhopause apart is that they’re a band who puts in a lot of effort to ensure that they sound great. They might not have the freshest of ideas, but their execution is spot on. And while I’m the sort of person who would pick ideas over execution any day, it’s great to see a band with such a dedicated work ethic. The band recently released their second album Easy, recorded over four years in a ramshackle makeshift studio they set up in a village in the middle of the Himalayas. The production team includes mixing engineer and co-producer Miti Adhikari (BBC London, the dude who did Maby Baking and also the new Them Clones singles) and Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer Richard Dodd. Even with the heavy guns, it’s interesting to note that the album still has that particular production sound that I’ve associated with Indian indie ever since I first heard the Them Clones EP so many years ago.
The first half of the album consists of laid-back psych-alternative with more than a hint of early Pink Floyd and The Beatles. Album opener ‘Time’ is a song about taking a step back to re-evaluate your life, and face ugly realities as Sarabjit Chadha remembers, “The dreams you’ve lost/ the lies to see.” Midway through the album, ‘Sky Is Falling’ is a spaced-out psychedelic track driven by a haunting piano melody that along with ‘Brimful’ separates the dreamy first half from the more energetic second half of the album. The highlight of this half is the anthemic ‘Father Monologue’ (a shortened edit of our top 25 songs of the decade nominee from the band’s debut album Home) which summarises the dynamics of the Indian parent-child relationship in one line with the hypnotic chorus – “I, have I been wasting time?” The album also has a lot of little musical cues that will leave no doubt in an educated listener that this is an Indian rock band. This gives the music an undeniably Indian identity without resorting to the sort of cheap gimmicks and forced fusion experiments that were quite in vogue in the mid-2000s.
But Easy is marred by occasional lapses into the sort of musical idol worship that Parikrama is guilty of. Case in point is ‘Floating’, a track that sounds so much like ‘Across The Universe’ that I had to look at my player and check that it hadn’t automatically skipped to a Beatles cover. There are also other, similar instances where the track – or a particular musical element or flourish – is so instantly familiar that I find myself spending more time trying to figure out who it reminded me of than listening to the original song. That does not bode well for a band that already invites too many references to The Doors. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call them derivative, these musical ‘tributes’ detract from what is otherwise an excellent set of songs from one of New Delhi’s most talented alternative acts.