Modern Love: Chennai (Music review), Tamil – Ilayaraja, Yuvan Shankar Raja, Sean Roldan, and G. V. Prakash Kumar

It’s customary for people to give a birthday gift to the person celebrating the birthday, but in Ilayaraja’s case, he seems to have given THE biggest gift of the year to his fans in the form of his music in Modern Love: Chennai! This is the kind of work that has me shouting in annoyance, “Oh man, where was all this music all this while? And what would it take to get such music out more often from you?!”.

It’s almost as if the high-quality musical output from Raja has rubbed off on the other composers of the soundtrack too, given that the overall quality of the music is phenomenal!

Yaayum Gnaayum, Peranbae (Yuvan Shankar Raja): Yuvan’s work in the album seems anchored in singer Shivani Panneerselvam and she delivers brilliantly! In Yaayum, she has a solo, and Yuvan’s expansive musical canvas brings out the best in her vocals. She joins Yuvan in Peranbae, and this is vintage Yuvan – a melody that could have been part of say Paiyaa or Ram, particularly the part sung by him! Interestingly, he sings in tune, and sings well too, unlike his usual self.

Jingrudha Dhanga, Uravu (Sean Roldan): Sean’s Jingrudha Dhanga is a spritely, catchy number that he sings with his usual panache, but it’s in Uravu that the composer truly impresses. Between Padmapriya Raghavan’s voice and his own, the melody traverses incredibly well.

Kukunnu (G. V. Prakash Kumar): In the larger scheme of the overall album, this is the weakest, despite it being considerably more interesting than GVP’s recent output, with a lively and sly hat tip to OP Nayyar’s ‘Jaadu Nagri Se Aaya’ from Leke Pehla Pehla Pyaar 🙂

And then… Ilayaraja!

In Nenjil Oru Minnal, the spring in Raja’s voice (writing his own verse) when he sings, ‘Nenjil andha minnal… neeya, adhu neeya’, that too for an 80-year-old, is truly an age-defying marvel! The lightness of the melody effortlessly took me all the way back to My Dear Maarthandan, one of his underrated (in my view) film+music combos.

Including the obviously searing, vocal-chord-busting element in Christopher Stanley’s vocals, Thee Inbame took me directly into the middle of Idhayam’s outstanding background music. I found the tune to sit perfectly within that film’s already mind-boggling BGM, complete with the stirring feelings they both evoke on very similar lines.

Raja lands his bluesy turn in Paavi Nenjae flamboyantly, in superb style, letting the music follow his vocal lead like a hopeless lover!

Aanaal, sung by Ananya Bhat, has shades of the 60s Tamil film sound, particularly Vedha’s PaLinginaal Oru MaaLaigai which, in itself, was inspired by Alberto Domínguez Borrás’ Frenesi… which, eventually, was adapted as a jazz standard by several other artists. Raja’s tune slows things down, adds a thumping rhythm, and ups the swank, thanks also to Ananya’s stupendous delivery.

Kaala Visai’s feels like another dimension of Aanaal, but this one is sung by Shivani Panneerselvam, and equally well at that. Her other song for Raja, Thaen Mazhaiyo, is whispery and leaves you with the same sensation as Uncertainty of the Future.

Sooriyan Thondrudhu Saamatthilae is THE song of the soundtrack, even though it is way too short! Priya Mali gets a banger of a tune that totally defies anything Raja has done in recent times, besides his age!

Priya delivers a complete opposite in the other short track, Endrum Endhan. This too is way too short, but within that length, it delivers the tantalizing possibility of how beautiful the melody is. This, along with Thendral, are the most Raja’ish songs of the album, something that eases a normal Raja fan into the album smoothly, showcasing his most accessible, melodic, musical style. Instantly and effortlessly likeable.

Kaamaththup Paal seems like an obvious hat tip to Edvard Grieg’s iconic In the Hall of the Mountain King by Raja. His melody barely hides the influence and wears it more like a ‘Look what I can do with this’, with the same humorous undertones.

Kannil Pattu Nenjai Thotta Minnal’s grand symphonic sound is way too short to truly register even though it deserves to. The Good Bye’s mesmerizing jazz has a simple melodic riff at its center and it has been treated with a gentle touch in the dreamy music Raja concocts. Uncertainty of the Future makes you yearn for a fuller, more rounded version… for some closure!

May 2023 has been a month of travel… way too much travel, at that, for me. And despite knowing that some interesting music has released, I just didn’t have the time or attention span to listen to them. After all, who, in their right mind, would listen to new music during a family vacation to Thailand? But I’m glad I finally caught up with Modern Love: Chennai. It’s a surprise that the previous Modern Love anthologies from 2 other cities—Mumbai and Hyderabad—had passable music, at best (Mumbai had at least 2, by Shankar Ehsaan Loy, while Keeravani’s lone song stood out in Hyderabad for me), and the series’ makers have totally hit it out of the park for the Chennai edition!

The full album, as a jukebox: