Top 10 Music Albums of 2011

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2011 has been all about variety. A run-of-the-mill, do it by the numbers soundtrack just won’t cut it anymore, not with an abundance of fresh talent injecting life and creativity into the industry, and pushing the veterans to try harder.

This year it was hard to narrow the list down to just 10 great albums (and even then we had to cheat a little bit!): don’t listen to the people who say Bollywood film music is stale, because they’re obviously not looking in the right places! Here are some of the best soundtrack albums of the year to delight your ears with!

10. Shor In The City

The film had a pretty low profile but it didn’t stop two of the tracks from the OST album rocketing up the charts in the first week of release: the frenetic, pulsating ‘Karma Is a Bitch’ hitting #10 and the lilting, lovely ‘Saibo’ entering the charts at #3. The Shor In The City soundtrack, from composers Sachin-Jigar and Harpreet is an example of how a soundtrack can be stunningly versatile, containing rock, desi, spiritual, romantic and electronic elements, and yet gel into a cohesive, mature, all too brief album that rewards repeated listening.

9. The Dirty Picture

It’s impossible to listen to The Dirty Picture OST without smiling: the infectious rhythms and cheeky lyrics of tracks like ‘Ooh La La’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ make sure of that. Catchy beats and cute lyrics aside, the impressive thing about The Dirty Picture soundtrack is how accurately musical directors Vishal-Shekhar captured the sound of a bygone era. Celebrating the 80s without tipping over into parody would have been a hard ask, but The Dirty Picture OST hits the right balance of nostalgia and pure discopop pleasure.

8. Ra.One

When Shah Rukh Khan announced that international hiphop star Akon would be involved with the OST for Ra.One, there were those who had their doubts as to whether he could pull it off.

Then ‘Chammak Challo’ was leaked. The rest is history.

While the film of Ra.One didn’t quite live up to the hype that preceded it, no one can say the same for the OST. Vishal-Shekar undeniably created the first blockbuster album of the year: ‘Chammak Challo’, ‘Dildaara’, ‘Criminal’, ‘Raaftarein’, ‘Bhare Naina’…the album is packed with a dizzying variety of addictive pop/rock/electronica interspersed with moody instrumental theme music. What’s not to love?

7. TIE: Mere Brother Ki Dulhan/Mujhse Fraandship Karoge

In seventh spot, we just couldn’t pick between the two fantastic albums this year that are all about feel-good pop music. Sohail Sen totally nailed it in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, with a super fun, totally addictive album without a single dull track. From start to finish, they’re all winners, but if we must single out highlights then we’ll have to mention the glorious ‘Madhubala’ (sung by Ali Zafar), the hypnotically addictive ‘Choomantar’ and the fabulously dramatic ‘Do Dhaari Talwar’ – each providing perfect palettes for the film’s stars Imran Khan, Ali Zafar and Katrina Kaif to show off their impressive chemistry.

Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge was the lower profile of the two films but that didn’t mean the producers skimped on quality. In fact, they called in world reknowned, highly acclaimed musician Raghu Dixit (of The Raghu Dixit Project) to try his hand at musical directing a Bollywood film soundtrack. The result is, like MBKD, all about quality: perfect well-crafted pop songs that fit the film like a glove, with enough musical innovation to keep things interesting. From the South Indian rap inflected grooves of ‘Dheaon Dheaon’ to the Brit-pop flecked sweetness of ‘Uh Oh Uh Oh’, the MFK OST is a feel-good winner, start to finish.

6. Rockstar

If Ra.One was the first blockbuster album of the year, Rockstar soon came to snatch the crown, and deservedly. A soundtrack with massive expectations preceding its release: AR Rahman, the maestro, was scoring a mainstream Bollywood release with big names (Ranbir Kapoor and Imtiaz Ali) attached. A film about a ROCK STAR. How would Rahman play it?

The resulting soundtrack is best described as epic: with a playing time of over an hour, the album includes 13 individual tracks (no remixes!) plus a poem, ranging from slow-burning rock to spiritual Sufi numbers, to even include a tango. It’s an emotional journey, rich with a variety of aural texture and instrumentation, shifts in mood and tone. If you only know the sublime, anthemic ‘Sadda Haq’, then you need to check out the rest of the journey.

5. Soundtrack

A film with a superstar DJ as its lead character, with the Indian music industry as its backdrop, can’t get away with a lackluster soundtrack. The first three tracks alone show the range and attention paid to a rich music subculture not often explored in mainstream film. From the first track ‘Symphony of the Streets’ – an innovative electronic sound collage that incorporates the everyday sounds of a city street into a mellow groove, to the synth and bass-heavy electrofunk dance floor jam ‘What The F’, to the sped up spiritual trance of Kailash Kher’s ‘Main Chala’, the Soundtrack soundtrack is another album that in its 11 tracks, makes not a single mis-step.

4. No One Killed Jessica

The combination of composer Amit Trivedi and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya is an exciting and inspiring one. Together they’ve been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries for filmi music, bringing creativity, innovation and variety into the charts. Short but definitely memorable, the NOKJ album packs a definite punch, contrasting tracks like the subdued, delicate anthem ‘Dua’ against the powerhouse energy of album opener ‘Aili Re’ and the now iconic ‘Dilli’.

3. Shaitan

Shaitan featured 7 relative newcomers in the ensemble cast, with no real big names except Anurag Kashyap as producer. And it was up against Ready at the box office. No pressure on this one to be a hit.

But remember the buzz the soundtrack for Dev.D created?! The team behind the Shaitan OST, helmed by Prashant Pillai – without any pressure to pump out a chartbusting pop superhit, have embraced the spirit of the film, voiced by one of the characters: “If you are not living on the edge you are taking up too much space”. Experimentation is the name of the game, and there are apparently no limits to the imaginations and creativity of the talent behind this fusion album. Name a genre of music and it’s on here, in some form, and it sounds amazing. Undeniable highlights: the compelling jazzy hip-hop funk of ‘Josh’, the flawless Sufi number ‘O Yaara’, and the reggae/trance/hiphop/electronica/Carnatic mashups of ‘Bali – The Sound of Shaitan’.

2. Delhi Belly

‘Bhaag D.K. Bose’ caused a sensation from the get go for its saucy chorus, but the Delhi Belly OST is no one hit wonder. Though the songs are used only situationally in the film, memorable promos for the desi hiphop fusion track ‘Switty Teri Pyaar Chaida’, a qawali with cheeky lyrics ‘Nakkadwaley Disco, Udhaarwaley Khisko’, and retro discopop item number ‘I Hate You (Like I Love You)’ got everyone talking. Marketing and gimmicks (like the dodgy language) aside, the music speaks for itself: among the gems that fans couldn’t stop raving about were a staticky tribute to old time music legend KL Saigal – Saigal’s Blues and the intense 80s punk inspired ‘Jaa Chudail’. One of the first true smorgasbords of musical variety of the year, still one of the best.

1. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Here’s what we said about the ZNMD OST earlier in the year:

“Full of breezy, Spanish guitars and a smattering of Spanish language, pulsating with rock vibes and and edgy electro beats, it’s hard to find fault with an album that so perfectly captures the atmosphere of freedom, raw energy, excitement, and discovery unleashed through travelling with good friends.”

Months later and this eclectic, evocative album is still stuck on repeat in our stereos. Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, veterans of the business by now, show no signs of getting jaded or lacking in creativity. The mellow electronica of ‘Ik Junoon (Paint it Red)’, the energising, uplifting, inspirational anthemic rock of ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’, the falsetto funk of ‘Sooraj Ki Bahoon Mein’, the infectious Spanish party vibe of ‘Senorita’ – it’s impossible to pick a highlight, because the whole album works as a supremely listenable, enjoyable whole.

Special Mentions:

There’s been an abundance of great music this year – we really have been spoiled. Want to check out more fantastic soundtracks? Make sure you don’t miss Mausam, Tanu Weds Manu and Desi Boyz!

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