Music Review | Lick The Blue Frog

It’s a strange paradox of Indian rock music in English that a Mumbai band with song titles such as Downtown Baby, channelling Billy Joel and 1960s Britpop in the same breath, can make you sit up and take notice. That’s because The Mavyns are, above everything, groovy. They make their tunes sound easy, with a self-assured joie de vivre and playful arrangements. And yes, despite the liberal sprinkling of Beatles-era lyrical imagery, they are very much a Mumbai band.

Livewire: (left) The Mavyns at Blue Frog; and the album cover.

When The Mavyns decided earlier this year to record a set of songs they’d been demo-ing on live shows, they found that the claustrophobic confines of a recording studio just didn’t capture the energy of their concerts. “I don’t think we’ll ever come up with a studio album," keyboardist and vocalist Vivek Nair says over the phone. “We lack that talent. I mean, we were given an opportunity to record this album with free studio time and we botched that up."

The band had previously thought of using the Blue Frog recordings they had lying around, which they discovered were of surprisingly high quality. These were retrieved after the traumatic recording studio experience, mastered and rearranged, and selected for continuity. The result is an uneven but promisingdebut.

Opening track You’re Only Right is the album’s most straightforward ballad, driven by a steadfast piano. The chorus refrain of How can you think of consequential things/when the wheel has only just begun to turn also perfectly sums up the band’s current state of mind.

Hard to Believe and My Sound are the album’s strongest, centred, respectively, around a pleasant lullaby riff and a looping, slightly dark piano hook. Freedomslinger (a word the band coined by combining “freedom" and “gunslinger") gets off to not one, but two false starts and never recovers from its initial hiccups. Downtown Baby sounds like a Billy Joel meets Sgt Pepper’s mash-up.Bedtime Stories and Indecent Clarabella (a name taken from a Beatles’ cover of a song by a band called The Jodimars) are the most verbose and lyrically surreal.

The last track on the live set is Greener than the Sea, a mostly successful, partly schizophrenic effort by the band to stitch multiple genres together in a 3-minute track. It opens with a classical piano intro, shifts into contemporary gear for the verse, throws in some grand 1980s-style epicness in the chorus, goes funk for the bridge section and ends with the blues.

The album’s last track is a bonus, a studio recording of Freedomslinger that was featured in an Indian indie compilation. In the studio, the song, with its off-kilter time signature and machine-gun drumming, is a rousing, energetic track capped by a brilliant and frenetic guitar solo. It’s an excellent cut of the album’s weakest track, and immediately elevates the song to one of the band’s best.

The stark difference between the rough cut of Freedomslinger and the polished yet energetic studio cut (despite the band’s objections) raises an interesting question—are these live recordings the definitive versions of the songs? Nair isn’t sure, but the band at present seems vehemently against a studio-recorded album.

Lick the Blue Frog, then, feels like a collection of live demos in varying stages of completion. But what excellent demos they are—by turns playful, experimental and bursting with clever ideas.

Lick the Blue Frog is available for free download

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