There have been few albums that have tried to blend classical music with more contemporary musical styles (new age, lounge, etc.) - like the works of Abhijit Pohankar or Nitin Sawhney. Similar to their intent, CM neither commercialises itself by elbowing classical vocals into the background, nor does it push raw classical into the forefront. The power lies in the blend; in its ability to keep classical aficionados sated, as well as non-classical accustomed listeners engrossed, and giving both sides enough meat on their plates. If there was ever an artist who could do absolute justice to this Herculean task, he is without doubt, Sonu Nigam.
Sochta Hoon Main, an intense philosophical track that questions the game of life, starts off the album. The drum and bass programming is the highlight of this song, and listeners should look out for the interplays between drums and tablas. The transitional intricacies of Bheege Bheege are striking. The listener is taken on an array of parallel journeys, with cruel chord changes and diverse instruments (sarangi, harmonium, piano) taking centerstage.
The electric piano and drums that kick off Soona Soona give you no heed to what's coming ahead, which has phenomenal percussive confluences quite like Sochta Hoon Main, only this time with the mridangam replacing the tablas. The main chorus and verses are challenging, almost like a vocal hurdle race, but Sonu dismisses them with such flawless ease, making one wonder if he is even capable of going minutely off-key.
At this point, the album steps down from its percussive and uptempo commencements, to more pensive ballads, which truly institute the album. Suratiya has all the makings of a classic. The track, subdued on instrumentation, brings out Sonu's vocals to the fullest. This beautiful ballad is supported by pianos in a very Madan Mohan-type of composition, interrupted pleasantly by Rahman-esque string interludes.
The instrumental and compositional sophistication of Classically Mild is world class, and what makes it a complete album. The opening piano notes of Chalki Chalki are comparable to pieces by Yanni or Clayderman, and the string ensembles that usher in Lamha Lamha are grandiose.
Dhanya Dhanya and Lamha Lamha are both, thematically, very original tracks - the first is a poignant song that talks of the selflessness of a woman in her various life roles (mother, daughter, lover, wife, sister) while the latter is a celebration of life - kudos to lyricist Ajay Jhingran for atypical and emotional lyrics. Switching gears from introspective to uplifting, Lamha Lamha is Classically Extra-Mild when compared to the others, as it allows the vocals to be eclipsed by instrumentation and unique rhythmic changes.
The trump card of CM is, without doubt its conclusive act, Ae Dil Mat Ro, which has a warm ghazal-like aura. The dark song effectively sums up all the variegated efforts that have clearly gone into making Classically Mild, a revolutionarily consummate collection.
Balance Sheet: If its objective was to create a contemplative journey of Hindustani classical music, with undertones of various Indian and world musical styles, CM has undoubtedly hit the nail on the head. When writing a review, one found it difficult to figure out what to applaud composer Deepak Pandit and Sonu Nigam for, first. For the concept of bringing 'classical' down a notch to appeal to many, for the brilliant compositions and fusion elements that span this album, or for going beyond stereotypical and commercial confines, stepping out and making a true 'cross-over' album. Or for soulful and unblemished singing, and those trademark, rebellious movements that only Sonu is capable of.
One must admit that no review or opinion can prepare you for the true captivation of CM, as it is something that is meant to be experienced. It is a "winds of change" album that underscores a new era and maturity in Indian music. Undoubtedly, with this brilliant album, genuine music lovers will do exactly what Sonu expected them to do when he developed Classically Mild - sit up and listen.