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Noori’s Great Expectations

Noori return with their third studio album, Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh. Instep lends an ear

Noori’s Great Expectations
Noori brothers Ali Hamza and Ali Noor with Shiraz Uppal, who is responsible for mixing and mastering the new album.

In Pakistan’s haphazard music scene, the album, or the concept of it, is disappearing. Even as indie and alternative acts continue to produce quality music in not just singles, but across several EPs and LPs, the record, for many reasons, is losing visibility in mainstream music, or what’s left of it. Is it a viable idea then, is a question that plagues the artist community.

Mixed with the concrete reality of several musicians swiftly turning their attention to acting and other artistic off-shoots alongside a glaring shift towards film music – not that film music production doesn’t have its own value – a record’s impending arrival is often met with overhype. On occasion, it can even inspire a curious interest, gliding past our casual, daily struggles with vacillating attention and distasteful procrastinating ways.

Mix this with the album comeback of a music group as popular as Noori and the value of said record quadruples. Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh, the third studio album from Noori, is therefore, saddled with great expectations. But it must be remembered that with an act like Noori, what you see is what you get. It’s a paradoxical truth; one that helps them as a band as much as it hurts them.

BGBS, the album, is accompanied by a thick booklet, and is “dedicated to the potential of the people of Pakistan.” In other words, that unflinching optimism that made Noori such a strong force to reckon with is alive and kicking. A lot of heart and soul has gone into the making of this album, and that effort is reflective in the album art and the little details that do not escape attention as you scroll through the quirky and elaborate booklet.

Noori_BGBS---IIThe record itself, featuring nine songs, is reminiscent of a grand Noori concert, full of contemporary-sounding songs with verse-chorus, sing-along charms, infectious, unmatchable energy and subliminal character marked by despair – in places.

Of the songs that are completely fresh, ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Hoshiyar’ capture that sparkling, quintessential, DIY, self-belief spirit of Noori and make for ridiculously enjoyable listening.

‘Sarfarosh’ is the heavy surprise of the album and hints at the experimental edge that Noori can create – it’s a gorgeous nod to form, a glorious rock song that makes it seems like the future, just on the horizon, is within reach and full of possibility. Similarly, ‘Kedaar’ plays on, and you are left limitless, seeking solutions and ideas, instead of gazing across a gaping void full of despair. Point, Noori.

Not every track works. Some old songs make a fresh comeback like ‘Mujhe Roko’ but it makes you wish for the other version of the song that found a space online, years ago. This album rendition pales in comparison. Ditto for ‘1947’ – a track that feels bewildering. It doesn’t narrate the complexity of partition and rests solely on the shoulders of Noori to produce an image, a narrative if you will, that fits into the context of this album and doesn’t sound like a forced contortion. The band manages it but barely.

BGBS is the completion of Noori’s self-professed musical trilogy that began with the band’s vibrant debut album, Suno Key Main Hoon Jawan, broke preconceived notions with Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jaani Ki Gol Dunya that questioned apathy in the individual and ends with the do-something attitude that cloaks BGBS.

For this album, Ali Noor donned the producer’s hat alongside Hassan Omer and manages to meet expectations – it sounds like signature Noori tunes designed to entice you to leave the privacy of your home and head to the nearest Noori gig.

Noori_BGBSHowever, the album is not sonically challenging. The radical experiment that accompanied the music video of Noori’s ‘Aik Tha Badshah’ doesn’t make the album cut and is replaced with a different of the same. In some ways, it tells a two-fold story; one, Noori is capable of pulling a surprising, elating sound if it wants to and two, this album is an ode to the band’s own strength. BGBS isn’t without merit and tells the story of a band that has sustained losses but like the music world it belongs to, it doesn’t back down.

It should also be stated, for good measure, that for so many of us, the album BGBS possesses a certain throwback nostalgic value and as a result, the record continues to make an appearance on our listening threshold.

The good news, here, is that Ali Noor and Ali Hamza, who tend to wrap albums in their own experiences, still retain that essence of Noori.

In the end, BGBS is a play on all the ideas you associate with Noori: interactive inclusion (fans sing on songs), infectious energy, a strange mix of idealism and pragmatism, self-belief and rock ‘n’ roll hooks galore. And it lives up to expectations. Hoping for anything more and finding it is a bonus. The likability for this album, thus, depends on your taste. For loyal fans of the band, BGBS is everything they thought it would be. For the critics, the album is a sign that Noori have it in them to twist things around sonically, and will, in the future, introduce a greater depth to their signature sound.

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