From the first moments of Karachi band E Sharp ’s second album 600 Saal, it’s evident that the trio have had a change of sound. It’s easy for bands to fall into the sophomore slump (it’s a real thing OK?), where they change directions completely, cutting the umbilical cord of the first album and innovating a new one. 600 Saal occasionally slips into the unexciting, but there are also flashes of brilliance.
The best songs on the album remind us that E Sharp have that rare ability to craft impeccable and moving pop songs. On their debut Bahadur Yaar Jung, the evident standout was ‘Kya Maine Socha’, which brought together the simplicity and sincerity of a typical pop ballad with lovely instrumentation (the closing minute is particularly beautiful). Similarly, on 600 Saal, there is ‘Saj Raha Hai’ and ‘600 Saal Guzray’, two wildly different tracks that play to the band’s strengths. The former is a venture into the realm of qawwali and the result is quite stunning. When Zawar reaches right into the depths of his range, you can almost hear his voice wavering and shaking. It’s goosebump-making stuff.
Similarly, ‘600 Saal Guzray’ is a gentle head-bopper drawing from 1950’s rock and roll, with pot-smoke lyrics like ‘600 saal guzray, par na badla insaan’, sung as a kind of defeated shrug of the shoulders. And like with ‘Kya Maine Socha’, E Sharp manage to wring out the most emotion and impact from simple scenes that feel totally sincere. In ‘Saj Raha Hai’, it’s the experience of going to another persons wedding, watching someone else’s momentous event, and all the feelings about love and life that that stirs. ‘600 Saal Guzray’, too, is the band’s meditations about humanity itself. It’s not groundbreaking, you don’t leave the song with any major political revelations, but nonetheless it feels honest and affecting.
And that’s why the trick doesn’t quite work on a song like ‘Superman’, which feels like being winked at by someone you don’t know. It’s meant to be a politically searing indictment of contemporary life in Pakistan, with a partially-EDM twist. But without any real feeling of sincerity, it comes across as a bit of an empty gesture.
Further, there are occasions when the album seems to slow to a crawl, where songs go by making little impression. ‘Chalti Phirti Saazish’, for instance, is meant to be our first introduction to Shabana, the love interest and MacGuffin of the entire album. But rather than being a dramatic entry, all we get is a short catalogue of her appearance and then…nothing. Seemingly empty lyrics float by like ‘Yehi such hai kay jaanatee hai woh mujh koh’, which not only make no impact but actually distance us from the album. Why should we care about Shabana? Other than being told that she’s is a ‘chalti phirti saazish’ there’s not much here to go from. The song ‘Shabana’, too, has an inert chorus – ‘Shabana tumse hogaya mujhko pyaar’ – that’s catchy but too forgettable to make any real impact.
But nevertheless, despite the album being a bit of a mixed bag, E Sharp continue to be one of those bands that release music generously, never afraid to experiment into qawalli or poppier electronic music and, even though the gamble doesn’t always pay off, when it does, it’s well worth the risk.