Let’s Chill Out to Swing Out Sister

If I have a guilty pleasure at all in Western music, that would be Swing Out Sister.

When it comes to Indian film music, I am perfectly capable of liking something as long as it has a good melody and good vocals. I may or may not fall head over heels in love with it but if somebody says they really like a song like, idk, Saara Pyaar Tumhara, I am certainly not going to have to suppress my inner snark from coming out and in fact I will join in the appreciation even if I don’t particularly need to listen to the song anymore.

But when it comes to Western, I become like Steve Carrell in Crazy Stupid Love loudly exclaiming BORING as Marisa Tomei reels off a perfectly respectable set of accomplishments. It isn’t that there is anything particularly wrong with stuff like Eagles, George Michael, Celine Dion, Michael Buble, etc. It’s just that I find them, for want of a better word, BORING. Why, even while I can well abide by stuff like AC DC, I would struggle to name more than a few hit songs of theirs. Yes, progressive rock snob, I am. Guilty as charged.

It becomes difficult to admit, having occupied such a lofty perch, that I like a band seemingly as square as Swing Out Sister, hehe.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with the band. The melodies are nice and pleasant, the arrangements (at least after the first album) are quite tasteful and the vocals, again, are quite pleasant. But they too share the same ‘flaw’ that I might bash pop music for – of being too predictable. So…what gives?

If I had to hit upon one thing that clinches it, it would be that Swing Out Sister somewhere appeal to the Bollywood buff in me. Wait, hear me out on this.

If you, dear reader, are in your twenties and of Indian origin but live stateside or somewhere abroad or you are not Indian but have Indian colleagues in that age group, you could be forgiven for assuming this is what Bollywood sounds like/has always sounded like. I, uh, don’t mind that song barring how loudly everything is mixed and it’s still not as loud as a Taylor Swift product. See, I warned you, snarky snark.

Anyhow, that is not at all how Bollywood used to sound. Bollywood used to be many things and sometimes it could be like this:

Or this:

Ah, so you see the connection now! Back in the day when Indians were more of Anglophiles or Europhiles than Americophiles, there was a niche of Bollywood music that was drenched in class. And yours truly loves those songs (such as the ones above).

It’s easy to see why Swing Out Sister reminds me of the ‘glory days’ of Bollywood when you see their video for Forever Blue:

Or the one for You On My Mind:

This is not a coincidence. Corinne Drewery (the singer) and Andy Connell (keyboardist and composer) do say they were going for a soundtrack music like feeling and the above video was inspired by (or meant to accompany) the film Thomas Crown Affair. Uh, yeah, Thomas Crown Affair was first made in 1968, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (though if you’re my age, you probably remember the Pierce Brosnan starrer that was a remake of the ’68 film).

The video for Waiting Game is no longer up on Youtube and it’s also a lot of fun (on the other hand, should you ever stumble upon their performance of that song at the David Letterman Show, run a mile away from it – trust me on this one).

But…post the album that these songs were a part of (1989’s Kaleidoscope World), Swing Out Sister’s commercial success began to dwindle and they made fewer and fewer videos. So…what was it that STILL kept me invested?

From 1992’s Get In Touch With Yourself onwards, they moved into a sound that I would essentially call as soulful smooth jazz. I know, sounds like an oxymoron, right? But that’s exactly why it works for me. It’s not so drenched in saccharine overproduction as smooth jazz (especially of that period) could be. And yet, it has enough of a connection to jazz to hold my interest. Let’s just say that if I have to listen to fairly predictable music with pleasant vocals, I am much more comfortable when the music evokes jazz rather than country or folk. Hey, that’s just me and my biased tastes, what do I do.

They briefly experimented a LOT and came right up to speed with going trip hop trends on their 1999 album Filth And Dreams. As a reward for their labours, the album was only released in Japan. But it has my absolute favourite track of theirs, World Out of Control.

What they have typically sounded like, though, would be on the lines of this (wish there was a better quality print of the video!):

Or this:

Or this:

Lastly, this one from their last release to date:

I also highly recommend the album Live At The Jazz Cafe which features wonderful re-arrangements of their songs.

Singer Corinne Drewery doesn’t have the most amazing technique. While I am not discussing that here as this is an appreciation post, suffice it to say it is sub optimal and limits her range. But she does have a knack for exuding charisma and that you can’t teach. Listen here and tell me this doesn’t ‘remind’ you of Chandralekha (I mean, this song came first by a six year margin):

On that note, I have to make the obligatory mention of THE hit song with which they’re associated, to the point where those who have not followed their career since may believe they are a one hit wonder. That wondrous ‘one hit’ is the song Breakout:

The album both songs come from is titled It’s Better To Travel. I could not agree more with the sentiment, as we continue to stay cooped up at home to avoid contracting a certain, a certain virus.

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