Everyone has heard Yuvan Shankar Raja's 'Rowdy Baby', 'Adadada Arrambame' and 'Evan Di Unna Pethan' but how about 'Boom Boom' from Raam or 'Sanjaram' from Kannamoochi Yenada. Because Yuvan has been prolific with over 150 films in 25 years, many of his albums are not backed by a big director or actor. Take Raam, one of his strongest albums, which was director Ameer's second and Jiiva's third film. It's inevitable that parts of his best music sneak into lesser-known albums that are not recollected as much as his more established work with directors like Selvaraghavan and Vishnuvardhan (but there's the counterexample of Sarvam). Here are ten lesser-known albums of Yuvan Shankar Raja that have some of his best work:
'Chinnan Sirisu' captures the sensibility of the entire album: rooted and with Yuvan's signature sound. It's a simple song with male and female voices accompanied by a basic rhythm, something like D. Imman's 'Koodamela' from Rummy, but there's also a sound that's like the noise of a moving bullock cart. It's not just about the music, unlike, say, Mankatha. It's also about the sounds. Kunguma Poovum Konjum Puravum has to be Yuvan's Kizhakku Cheemayile.
'Na Dharmanda' comes out the left rib of Ilaiyaraaja's 'Annaaththe Aaduraar,' right from how it starts with a catchy rhythm that keeps the song ticking to how both the songs are tongue-in-cheek hero worship songs. But the lyrics in 'Na Dharmanda' also subvert the template with lyrics like "padikka theriyaadhu kadha padippaan" and "potta pullakku pudicha pulla." It has to be the best mass hero introduction song by Yuvan but it finds itself in one of his lesser known albums.
Yuvan channels his inner Gangai Amaran in 'Muttathu Pakkathil' composed a year before the better known "Yelelu Thalamuraikkum" from Goa. But the pick of this album has to be the oppari song sung by Velmurugan and it has a similar template to "Manjanathi Puranam' in Karnan. Velmurugan begins with a lament in a voice that shakes with grief but stays musical with occasional atonal excursions. The lament (and breakdown) is followed by an explosion of parai drums and the song alternates between the two until it literally exhausts itself—the drums get winded and a conch heaves out one last time.
'Neee' has a few things we love about Yuvan's singing: the high-pitched and almost nasal sound, the unconventional way of rounding off the ends of words and the ability to miss notes just enough randomly to keep it interesting. 'Neee' starts off mellow but once Yuvan turns on the beat, it acquires a cool, low-key 'Evandi Unna Pethan' vibe.
'Naan Ini Katril', sung by Chinmayi and Yuvan, begins sounding almost like a version of 'Irava Pagala' from Poovellam Kettuppar: contemplative and just a little melancholic. What's interesting is, when Yuvan and Chinmayi sing together, it's as if Yuvan's thin, sharp voice is cutting through the more expansive, rounded sound of Chinmayi's voice.
If it had been released in 2008 when it was made, Kadhal 2 Kalyanam would have been fighting it out in the midst of albums like Boss Engira Bhaskaran, Naan Mahaan Alla and Vaanam; and it shares many similaries with them. For example, 'Natpin Kadhaigal' has echoes of 'Kadhal Enbadhu' from Kallooriyin Kadhai. And 'Idhu Kadhalai Irinthidumo' is still a perfectly serviceable EDM song like 'Evan Di Unna Pethan'. But 'Vellai Kodi' has aged far better than the others with it's shifting melody, crisp and breezy guitars.
I might be committing sacrilege here but 'Oru Devadai' is one of his few romantic solos that wouldn't be improved by Yuvan singing it (but you hear clear echoes of this song in 'Kadhal Aasai' from Anjaan). That's because Roop Kumar Rathod sings it with a certain openness in both the singing and pronunciation. For instance his 'aruginil', 'idhayamey' and 'uruguthey' sound just a bit more earnest than usual as he doesn't smooth vowels out like a native speaker might. In a song that sounds quaint with syrupy lyrics, the earnestness gives the song an old school charm.
Raam has to be Yuvan's darkest album and soundtrack. It's also his most haunting. 'Yaaro Arivaal' begins with a magisterial and unsettlingly quiet bit followed by a tune sung in clear, straight notes by Madhu Balakrishnan. It feels uncomfortable in the way the melody quickly shuffles back to where it began. You get the feeling of reaching out without grasping, which is also what the song talks about: the limits of the mind to know its own destiny.
'Aararirao', sung by KJ Yesudas, also starts off in an inharmonious mess that mirrors the film's chaos. It only gets harsher as more sounds are added until everything winds down. And there's only Yesudas's voice and a pulsating sound like an underwater sonar call (it never stops, only quietens), mirroring Jeeva's character who searches for his missing mother (Saranya) in the film.
Yuvan and Priya V first collaborated in Kanda Naal Mudhal. Their second film together, Kannamoochi Yenada, also has a semi-classical title song. There's also a perfect twin to 'Merke Merke' in 'Sanjaaram'. The songs in the film, especially a remix of the 1960s song 'Andru Vandhadhum', are superbly light. Yuvan rarely recreates this with other directors.
'Kuppathu Rajakkal' comes from the came zone as Ilaiyaraaja's 'Raja Rajadhi'. You could even hum the older song as you hear this one and be surprised at the number of echoes. In 'Thakkuthey', Yuvan singing exudes coolth and gives an impression that he's merely spitting away the words to clean his palate. You hear very little vocal effort. And in the charanam he sounds like he's just muttering to himself.
'Pesugiren', sung by Neha Bhasin and written by Na. Muthukumar, alone would earn Satham Podathey the price of admission on any list of Yuvan's important albums. Philosophical songs in Tamil have a long history from, say, 'Satti Suttadhata' suggesting detachment to 'Manidhan Enbavan' emphasizing character to get through life's sorrows.
'Pesugiren' is a rare thathuva paadal sung by a female and the lyrics are a bit more relaxed and the melody of the song meanders through the voice, saxophone and guitar, without seeming to want to get anywhere. It superbly matches the introspective mood of the lyrics.
'Poopoovai' is Yuvan's take on AR Rahman's 'Pachai Kiligal'. It has the same syncopated rhythms and singing that sounds contented. And the setting of the song is also similar in Bala with the lyrics talking about filial love. Only a few notes are held for long by Unni Menon. Most are sounded just long enough for them to register; it also has one of Yuvan's sparest orchestrations.
'Bailamo Bailamo' sounds as generic today as it did back in 2002 but it's also an enjoyable relic of a period when Yuvan was killing it with kuthu songs like 'Sight Adippom' from April Mathathil or 'Neruppu Koothadikudhu' from Thulluvadho Ilamai — AR Rahman wouldn't make kuthu songs and Deva was too 90s.
The first time I heard 'Padapadakkudhu Maname' it sounded like the regular Yuvan feel-good song, like, say, 'Merke Merke' from Kanda Naal Mudhal — until Yuvan lights that fuse just after the one-minute mark. It keeps swinging in and out leading you to expect a high point, an explosion of rhythm at the other end of the fuse. But instead of fire, we get ice: the song settles into a relaxed rap before handing it off to an aimless accordion. In more mainstream films, we rarely see Yuvan construct such free-flowing musical structures.
'Aaha Kaadhal' reminds you of AR Rahman's 'Kalayil Dhinamum', relying on a light, ethereal sounding piano to set the mood. The piano's duties are to follow the voice or the rhythm and, when neither are available, to play out tentative arpeggios. And 'Unakkaagave' is the usual romantic song sung by Yuvan himself; it's usual except for the squiggly-sounding synth that comes right after Yuvan skids himself over the lyrics that go "touched by an angel'. You'll be surprised at its capacity to hook into your ear as it reappears in tantalizing snippets throughout the song.