This is the album that proudly defines the beginnings of Pakistani pop music as we know it today. Eschewing the one-dimensional sonic set-up of pre-Signs local pop, the Signs stretched the home-grown pop dynamic by adding to it allusions to slick 'synth-pop' — all tastefully weaved together with inspirations gathered from the melodic filmi music of composer Robin Ghosh and vocalists such as Alamgir.
The resultant sound is a breed apart compared to what had come in the name of Pakistani pop music before; kicking-off with the conceptually cheesy but highly infectious patriotic chestnut, Dil Dil Pakistan, the album confidently sprints across vintage teeny-bopper trappings such as Gori, Ankehn, and Samjana.
But this is just the surface stuff dished out to attract a new generation of teenagers who had rolled into a new socio-political reality at the violent end of the repressive Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship.
Lying beneath the bubbly teen anthems is the heart of the album, melodically manifested by three outstanding numbers Doh Pal Ka, Musafir and Yeh Shaam.
Doh Pal Ka is a standard pop-rock number, but without the pretentious bombast of 1980s “hair-metal.” What's more, the galloping tune never loses sight of melody even as guitarist Salman Ahmed exhibits his early moorings for spontaneous riff-making, an art he would eventually perfect with Junoon.
Musafir on the other hand is literally dripping with melodic appeal, displaying the early beginnings of the Signs' melancholic side. A highly underrated number, Musafir sees vocalist Junaid Jamshed demonstrate infectious vocal dexterity, and keyboard/synth-player, Rohail Hayaat create his initial opportunity to play around with Floydian atmospherics.
Yeh Shaam is cut from the same cloth and is even more brooding in mood. Salman Ahmed does well to make his guitar faithfully follow Junaid's longing vocals.
Album title VS-2 Year of release 1991 Rating *****
The incredible commercial success of VS-1 turned the Signs into an overnight sensation. But sudden stardom also came with a cost, as fissures started to appear on the band's gold-plated armor.
The psychic clash emerging from Salman's boisterous persona and Rohail's sulking disposition saw the unceremonious exit of Salman who was soon replaced by Rizwan-ul-Haq.
Then Junaid too threatened to leave, wanting to pursue engineering as a profession. In the chaos, the Signs managed to collect a lucrative sponsorship deal from a cola company. However, out of this mess arrived not only the band's finest (and darkest) album to date — it also remains to be perhaps one of finest sonic documents of local pop music in the country, even eighteen years after it was first released.
The stand-out tunes are many, led by Ajnabi, Hum Rahey Rahi, Nazar, and Yadh Rakhna. Each track is a convincing testament to melody-rich pop music offered on a dark, brooding Floydian platter. Each member of the band seems to be in top form, especially vocalist Junaid and synth-player and producer, Rohail. New guitarist Rizwan-ul-Haq feels right at home plucking out melodic riffs and leads and hanging on well with the album's somber mood.
Bassist Shahzad Hassn, who unfortunately remains as one of the scene's most underrated player, too comes into the picture, steadily pacing up with the thumping, galloping drum dynamics of Bazaar and the apocalyptic, Aisa Na Ho. No doubt, VS-2 remains to be an evergreen gem and a definite Pakistani pop classic.
Album title Aetibar Year of release 1993 Rating **1/2
The year 1993 was perhaps the most stable period in the band's career. Maybe that's why it decided to pull itself out from the brooding, forlorn disposition it found itself on VS-2 and create an album that was closer in sound and mood of VS-1. But the attempt to revert back to happier music was a disappointment. Apart from the lovely title-track, Aietebar and the meaty Yeh Zameen there's not much else on the album apart from disposable pop fluff.
Album title Greatest Hits Year of release 1994 Rating **
This was a formulaic greatest hits package that missed out on some vital VS moments.
Album title Hum Tum Year of release 1995 Rating *****
This was a formidable album which, like VS-2, emerged from tense intra-band turmoil. Rizwan was shown the door, replaced by technical guitar whiz, Aamir Zaki, who after recording just three songs was asked to exit as well and former Awaz six-stringer, Assad Ahmed was taken on board. But before Zaki's sudden firing, it was band leader, Rohail who quit, clashing with Junaid over a contractual obligation the band had for a series of concerts in the US. The band toured without Rohail, but returned to take him back in to the fold and instead asked Zaki to depart, allegedly on Rohail's behest. Also, Junaid, though at the peak of his singing abilities, had started to show the first signs of an emotional and existential crisis that would eventually see him quit music and take up preaching some six years down the road. And if we (gladly) skip the first two songs of Hum Tum -— especially the cheerfully xenophobic, Hum Jeetain Gay — each and every song is a more-than-direct allusion to a band melting helplessly away towards an eventual break-up — but what a melting indeed.
Quite like VS-2, the mood on Hum Tum is somber, but more stoic and fatalistic, as Junaid brilliantly mouth's Shoaib Mansoor's words of fatalistic resignation, misunderstanding and unrequited emotions on such gems as, Jana, Jana, Hum Tum, Dair Hogai and Namumkin.
Rohail paints in loads of sonic allusions to Floydian landscapes, whereas delivering one of the funkiest VS tunes in the shape of the epic, Main Chup Reha. Asad's playing and fiddling with the wah-wah pedal is a retainable treat on this song.
The album's musicianship, production and vocals prove that VS had hit a peak of sorts and would have been able to dish out at least a few more decent albums. But alas, that was not to be, and perhaps never will.
Album title VS-Remixes Year of release 1999 Rating *
An interesting idea, but one that just fails to take hold as most songs here are reduced to tin-like dance routines and cynically regulated into the obnoxious jhankaar territory. Only the remix version of Dil, Dil Pakistan, and the last recorded VS song, Maula escape mediocrity, but only just. — NFP