If the city of Bangalore ever masqueraded in the sonic dimension, it would probably be heard in a TAAQ album. Three Wheels Nine Lives (3W9L) is a guaranteed bumpy ride through the city on that black-and-yellow mean machine.
3W9L impresses right from the album art, the inner sleeves, and the humungous poster with caricatures of the trio.
‘Surrender’ opens up a funky first disc with a lot of hooks and sing-alongs. The wah-wah croaks and sniggers around Bruce’s Hendrix-y casual vocals. The title track ‘Meter Mele One and a Half’ is in 11/8 time or 5.5/8, which comes from the title (meter -4, mele- plus 1 ½ =5 ½). Despite the complex time, the song’s still got addictive chorus lines.
The auto takes a break as Bruce and friends relax with mellower tones that seem to paint sonic pictures of Lalbagh. ‘In the Middle’, ‘Birthday’ and ‘Bangalore Flowers’ have the best lyrics on the album. While ‘In the Middle’ has a reference to John Coltrane, ‘Birthday’ outrageously imagines the possibilities of time being space. ‘Bangalore Flowers’ is the pick of disc one, which lyrics that Bangalore-lovers(lovers of Bangalore and lovers in Bangalore) can relate to and a brilliant much-awaited-on-disc-1 Bruce Lee Mani guitar solo.
‘If Them Blues’ fuses Chennai’s local dabbankuthu genre (the beat, the whistle) with Hendrix’s ‘Jam back at the house’ (Woodstock ’69). The jazzy guitar-vocals duet in ‘Sad Moon’ featuring Priya Mendens on haunting vocals closes disc one.
‘For the Cat’ retains some of disc-one’s Saturday-afternoon-in-your-armchair-sipping-coffee feel of tracks like ‘Bangalore Flowers’ and ‘Billboard Bride’ but slowly moves into a tighter blues groove before returning back to the armchair. ‘Ho-hum (instrumental)’ is a brisk walk between auto-stands, while ‘Chameleon’ and ‘Dangerous Mind’ are the two dark-hard tracks of the album.
Saturday afternoon moves into night with the ponderous ‘Who Do We Have Sex With?’ and the fizzy ‘Won’t Stop’. The bluegrass-y bonus track ‘Something You Said’ closes out disc two in a fashion similar to disc one – mellow and haunting.
The singles and live disc has its own gems –‘Simply Be’ a quirky eccentric track with a cracking bass solo, ‘Mighty Strange’ and ‘One Small Love’ have fluttery sax and a husky flute with the latter being in 10/8 time embroidered with a very Dire Strait-ish guitar work. ‘Grab Me’ is the best song on the disc, a 12/8 slow burning blues with lovely solos and the anti-corruption anthem ‘Kickbackistan’ completes the auto journey.
In 3W9L, TAAQ have brewed a perfect concoction of laid-back bluesy tracks and brisk rock n’ roll. The environs are unmistakable – Bangalore with its street-side chat shops and the large malls, the IT folk and the parks and yet it never gets up-market at any point in the album.
If you’re a guitarist you want Bruce’s amp and if you’re a vocalist you want his everyman Bangalorean casual approach to singing parts in complex time. His solos are sophisticated yet expressive. The rhythms section of TAAQ (Prakash KN on bass, Rajeev Rajagopal on drums) keeps the grooves tight and interesting through the winding time signatures.
While many bands in the country are opting for a native and desi feel with Carnatic, Hindustani or folk-ish sounds to spice things up and express themselves succinctly, TAAQ use the time-tested palette of jazz-infused blues, and aptly so, for the urban Bangalore vibe is precisely what they want to conjure.