Sheila Chandra

Out on My Own

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Monsoon, a London-based trio of teenage Anglo-Indian singer Sheila Chandra and keyboardist/producers Steve Coe and Martin Smith, melded Indian rhythms and lyrics to then-current British synth pop on their 1983 album Third Eye, creating a mixture that was simultaneously intoxicating and just a little dodgy. Either the band or (more likely) their label were pushing Chandra's sexy exoticism first and foremost. Chandra is an impressive singer, with a defiantly polyglot personal aesthetic blending elements of both traditional Indian music and English pop, but the album and single sleeves were more interested in playing "Dig the little Asian hottie!," placing Chandra in skimpy and elaborate garb more suitable for a '30s film celebrating British colonialism. Monsoon left their British label after that album, setting up their own Indipop imprint (as in "Indian pop"; this was a couple years before widespread use of the term "indie pop" to denote scraggly guitar bands doing D.I.Y. recordings for bedroom labels) in 1984 and dropping the band name. Although Coe and Smith still co-produced and co-wrote 1984's Out on My Own, it was released as Chandra's first solo record, a chance to start again from a less icky and more credible position. The album has less of the whimsical synthesizer gimmickry of the Monsoon album, and a more serious, occasionally somber, mien. The opening "All You Want Is More" is as catchy as anything on the Monsoon album, but even though it, and nearly all the rest of the album, is sung in English (only "Prema, Shanti, Dharma, Satya" has the Hindi lyrics prevalent on Chanda's later albums), the Indian instrumentation and structure are much more pronounced than before. To make the obvious comparison, the Monsoon album was like "Norweigan Wood," with Indian instruments overlaid on an otherwise traditional Brit-pop tune. The songs on Out on My Own are more like "Love You To" or "Within You, Without You," Indian-style rhythms and melodies arranged for an ever-shifting admixture of sitars, tablas, pianos, synthesizers, and cross-cultural percussion, overlaid with Chandra's dreamy vocals. On several tracks, particularly "All You Want Is More" and the wordless, hypnotic "From a Whisper to a Scream," she experiments with Indian vocal percussion, the clipped staccato syllables used in Indian classical music to teach rhythms to percussionists and dancers; this would become a hallmark of her later albums and largely improvised live concerts. Those who only know Sheila Chandra's work through her trilogy of mid-'90s albums on Peter Gabriel's Real World label (Weaving My Ancestors' Voices, The Zen Kiss, and AboneCroneDrone), which incorporate North African, Middle Eastern, and Celtic influences alongside the English and Indian elements, will be surprised by the relative straightforwardness of this album. For all their adventurousness, these are basically pop songs, and very good ones at that.

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