When I Was Born for the 7th Time (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)
Cornershop

By Bob Bahr

Somewhere out there is probably a support group for people like me, people who obsess over a song -- to the point of cueing it up six, seven, fourteen times a day and singing snippets of it the rest of their waking time. Some songs just do that to us folks.

The second track on When I Was Born for the 7th Time is one of those songs. In it, Cornershop grab hold of a short pop melody and ride that horse until it is plenty dead. And even after the repetition, after the hooks have started to lose their prick, and numbness begins to set in, I'm still standing there begging the horse to get up and ride again. And that resurrection is as easy as pressing the "back" button on the CD player. Again! Again! I'm like the rat pressing a drug-dispensing button in a lab experiment. More! More!

Why is this song, titled "Brimful of Asha," so bewitching? It's due equally to the blithe tone of the music and the coolly upbeat vocals of bandleader Tjinder Singh, recorded very dry and up front in the mix. Elsewhere in the soup, an electric guitar strums the simple chord progression, the melody that demands to be sung all day. The drum beat is pretty straight -- just a touch of funky, but recorded with the bass drum accentuated in a way that suggests dance music.

And oddly enough, the lyrics suck me in, even though many of Singh's phrases seem nonsensical, and a fair number of others are India-centric or Anglo-centric enough to leave me in the dark. The "Asha" of the title is a solvable mystery, however: Asha Bhonsle is one of India's biggest music stars. And the song's bridge is one of the most endearing lyrical lines of the year to date: "Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow/Everyone needs a bosom." Singh says his head rests comfortably on a 45 -- a whimsical way of saying that music is his comfort. This paean to the music he loves is ultimately relatable, even if Singh's background in Punjabi culture seems quite foreign to your ears.

If the Indian references in that song seem foreign, cuts like "Chocolat," "It's Indian Tobacco My Friend," "When the Light Appears Boy" and even cuts like "We're in Yr Corner" smack more of exotica. In that song, the drum beat is modern as today's newspaper and the melody as sweet as any Beatles hook, the lyrics are sung by Singh in Punjabi and the sitar has center stage. After the next song, "Funky Days Are Back Again," a skeptical listener may see the sitar's use as a retro tool; this is because "Funky Days" uses dated keyboard sounds to bed the lyrics, which list all the '70s trappings that Cornershop loves, from clothes to dance styles. It's a strong flavor of nostalgia. Likewise concentrated is the country sound of "Good To Be on the Road Back Home," with twangy vocal contributions from Tarnation's Paula Frazer. The attitude seems more satiric than affectionate. Further afield is "When the Light Appears Boy," a rhyming poem written and performed by Allen Ginsberg, which drifts into a recording of Punjab street musicians. The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" is covered but sung in Punjabi and accented by sitar; I yawned.

Almost half of the tracks on When I Was Born for the 7th Time are instrumentals or are nearly vocal-free. They are of the loops-and-beats variety, reminiscent of what the Beastie Boys assemble. It's not hip-hop or trip-hop, but maybe Punjab-hop. Most traditional hip-hop fans wouldn't even respond with a dismissive "That's wack!" They would just shake their heads and walk away from these tracks (with the exception of "Candyman" and "Good Shit," smart little numbers that The Automator from Dr. Octagon helped with). These are beats of the indie-rock variety, sparse and trendy, quirkily mixed. Will we laugh at them in ten years?

Probably. But for today's ears, Cornershop makes perfect multi-culti pop, mixing Indian with English and American, utilizing sounds from hip-hop, country, Brit pop and traditional Indian music, bouncing from the '70s to the '90s and from groove jazz to rap scratching. This album manages to be brilliant and yet reek of disposability.