Can pop stars become rock stars? Let's head to Kuala Lumpur to find out...
Picture the scene. Imagine you are a musician adored by fans across the continent. Whether you are in a nightclub in Jakarta, a swanky hotel in Singapore, or even in a shop back home in Seberang Perai, your music is being played on the radio and gets everyone moving. Each night you perform, the crowds are grooving to your funky rhythms and singing along to your catchy tunes. But somehow, there is a hole inside you. Your adoring fans, although you love them, must have their adoration tested. Will they stand by as you follow a path you feel almost compelled by. Who is this shaitan that is possessing you away from the endless riches that being a popstar brings you? The devil, the darkness, the demon within – he is called rock and his wish is your command.
“Already tearing up the rule book, the band found themselves on a journey of musical development leading to the promised land of rock...”
Changing genre mid-way through a career is a bold step that more often than not is deemed as a phase of experimentation. Most artists making a genuine transition to pop are typically thought of as rockers, rappers or proponents of a genre that doesn’t necessarily appeal to such a broad church that do so in an attempt to be more marketable to a wider-audience and thus be more famous and sell more records. Take once-upon-a-time hair metal artists Bon Jovi or Aerosmith, best known for their meteoric rise to fame through their later work in the pop genre. Away from the US, one could cite British hip-hop star and godfather of grime Dizzee Rascal’s evolution from his debut album Boy in da Corner to his far more poppy release Tongue n' Cheek years later, or even Queen’s evolution from being a rather harder beast in the 70s to the disco-inspired Hot Space the following decade.
Though between pop and rock lies the subgenre of pop-rock on the Venn diagram of musical styles, which is where Queen of course fell, a move away from the poppy limelight is far less well heard of. Enter The Alleycats. Despite being arguably Malaysia’s most loved pop group, whose career spanned across four decades, there reached a point in which the group were clearly seeking a new challenge. Formed in the late 60s, the band wowed audiences for many years with their fun pop music. Brothers Loganathan Arumugam and David Arumugam, both darker-skinned individuals donning afros that would be synonymous with disco stars at the time in the United States, propelled themselves to superstar status in spite of existing racial prejudice in Malaysia. Already tearing up the rule book, the band found themselves on a journey of musical development leading to the promised land of rock with their 1992 concept album Untukmu.
Yet, before they got there they needed to build up to this point and bridge together elements of pop that they were more familiar with and rock which they were learning about. One can hear them almost at the precipice of their rockiness with their 17th studio album (yes, you read that correctly) C.I.N.T.A whilst still with an obvious ear for a good poppy tune. The peak of the album is the opening track and title song C.I.N.T.A which is a banger of the highest order. The song begins with some epic guitar riffs, soon accompanied by Arumugam’s great vocals and then even features a phenomenal saxophone solo which I absolutely adore. Whilst this is the best thing about the album, the darker elements within The Alleycats can be heard at different points throughout the record. Sedangkan Kau Tahu is a brilliant rock-ballad, whilst the traditionally poppy and disco-infused elements of the band still shine through on tracks like Terima Kasih. Whilst this isn’t the greatest album of all time, I would nevertheless recommend it, especially if you want to hear a band so clearly in the process of development and growth, clearly doing so from a place of fulfilling a creative urge rather than a need to pander to the masses.