The Sri Lankan pop duo succeed in creating an enjoyable collection of catchy, easy-listening tunes
When Danny and I discuss these albums, often months in advance before we actually write these reviews, there is one stock criticism that appears more often than any other – “it’s just too long”, oft accompanied by our worst Ed Miliband impressions. I sometimes wonder if that is even a fair criticism to make of any album. Is an album even meant to be listened to in one go? Albums that were initially released on vinyl naturally had breaks after the end of side one, and now with CDs and streaming, it’s arguable that an album can be as long as it wants to be, since there is no reason for anyone to listen to the whole thing if they don’t want to, and the album can still be considered a success. But for the purposes of this website, we must consider the album as a discreet artistic entity, like a film or a book, that must be considered as a whole. Even with this in mind, what is ‘too long’? After all, I would say that the George Harrison album All Things Must Pass is nearly flawless, and that rocks in at an hour forty-five minutes. The Princess by Parov Stelar, previously reviewed on this site, is nearly two hours long and I would contend it is exactly as long as it needs to be. And yet, some albums we discuss, even ones that are under an hour, come under this most nebulous and nefarious of judgements. In essence, the crux of it, for me at least, is does the album need to be as long as it is? Is the album saying something with every second over 45 minutes, and if it isn’t, is it at least entertaining? If the answer to both of those is either no, or yes, but insufficiently or inconsistently, then we have cause to label an album overly long without too much preoccupation. Neththara by Bathiya and Santhush definitely fits into that category.
“Perhaps that is this album’s greatest strength, that it is very consistently enjoyable, if workmanlike and repetitive.”
Bathiya and Santhush are, unsurprisingly, a pop duo consisting of Bathiya Jayakody and Santhush Weeraman, and are one of Sri Lanka’s most successful musical acts of the past 20 years, and I can see why. Bathiya and Santhush (or BNS, as they are occasionally referred to) definitely have talent, and they have nice voices. There is also a fair amount of variety on the album, mixing in hip hop with pop, some slower ballad-style songs, and often all combined with sounds we would consider more traditionally South Asian.
Neththara is a fun album, if not a deep or meaningful one. Sri Lankan pop is not a genre I know much about (yet, at least) but from what I can discern it’s pretty good. On the third track, Chandani Payala, we almost stray into plagiarism, what with it sounding similar to the Cat Stevens classic, Father and Son, but they save it by just about changing the main melodic hook to sound different enough. Re Pura is probably my favourite song on the album. It’s a very gentle pop ballad that has quite a catchy chorus, and the female vocals on the track take it to the next level. That said, it isn’t an album where I immediately had a favourite few songs. Perhaps that is this album’s greatest strength, that it is very consistently enjoyable, if workmanlike and repetitive. The album is perfectly fine, occasionally great, but there’s simply too much of it. At 70 minutes long, I was a bit bored of the style by the end. That said, when I went back to listen to it again for this review, out of the context of the album I enjoyed those latter songs more, so it might be most fair to label this a collection of singles, readily consumed individually, but as a whole, I struggled. However, don’t let that put you off. Give it a go, dip in and out, and you’ll have a good time.