Unlike his earlier album Karnan that had interesting musical ideas, Santhosh Narayanan defines the music of Dhanush-starrer Jagame Thandhiram by its sound. It's strictly functional and each track could be slotted by theme into the 'Madurai' or 'London' bucket. You can't musically pick apart an album that shapes its sound for a grand narrative of intrigue in a foreign land centered around a 'mass' hero from Madurai. But, how Santhosh Narayanan does this remains interesting, especially in 'Barotta Master'.
The track sounds like you have an angry bee that's learnt to keep rhythm in your ear. It starts off with Dhanush's sampled voice before settling into a groove on to which the bee is placed. The rest of the song is just anarchy; an explosive, chaotic blob of EDM.
'Theengu Thaakka' is a spiritual successor to 'Ding Dong' from Jigarthanda. Arivu chains the rhymes of his rap: thandhiri, kottaikkulla raja thandhiri, rondhu paakka vandha mandhiri, undu sangadhee. It creates a sense of inevitability or even destiny. Each rhyme pushes the lyric forward before it lands again on a rhyme from which it bounces off to the next one. You catch an ominous church bell in the background. You also hear a cool, regal sounding 'theme' that punctuates the rap. It sounds tired and imprecise, and superbly counterpoints the sharp, quickly flowing rap. 'Naan Dhan Da Mass' is another track with lyrics by Arivu that strain to be interesting because of how short each phrase is. So, you get lines that don't have room to breathe like: oyaadha hate, oorellam fight, aavadha pech, seydhaaram aach. The two tracks, and more generally, all the tracks in the album, often feel too familiar and functional for a Santhosh Narayanan album; they are reduced to setting mood.
There are a few interesting experiments. For example, 'Aala Oola' (sung by Anthony Dasan) starts and ends with a fusion of Tamil folk and Scottish music. The way the bagpipes that begin the song fuse with the folk lyrics 'gana rathinamey' is unexpected and brilliant. The song gets into a 'Rakita Rakita Rakita' zone briefly without turning heroic. But even here, the fusion is less about musical ideas and more about creating an appealing mixture of sounds. It's also true for 'Nethu', written and sung by Dhanush. It's a generic waltz with Dhanush's unassuming and seemingly artless lyrics sung with a distinct folk sensibility, but never attains the sharpness of 'Sirukki Vaasam' from Kodi which was a similar experiment.
The music of Jagame Thandhiram sounds so much like Kashmora but the quirk here is clipped by the music's familiarness. Take 'Rakita Rakita Rakita' which replaces a musical rallying point with a chant. It comes from the same zone as 'Endi Ippadi' from Enakkul Oruvan which uses the refrain 'endi ippadi un mela kirukku' to anchor itself. But the chorus 'rakita rakita rakita' is essentially a vocalization of the basic rhythm of the song which makes it feel like it flows continuously. Again, the innovation is in the sound and not in the music.
Because of its focus on sound, Jagame Thandhiram is a great album to hear in the background as you're doing something else, which is also how it will be experienced during a viewing of the film. It feels like an album that's designed to set the mood and get out of the way. In that sense, it's a different kind of album from Karthik Subbaraj's Jigarthanda or Iraivi. This is music out of Santhosh Narayanan's Kashmoraa zone modified to create a 'mass' sound.