‘Muaziz Saarif’ singer joins Umair Butt, Gharwi Group in high-tech triumph that lacks heart

KARACHI:

Seven episodes in, Coke Studio Season 15 seems intent on advancing a singular mantra: play it safe. For its latest release, Blockbuster, the global music franchise had to its disposable the dynamic pairing of Faris Shafi and Umair Butt (of Butt Brothers), alongside the Gharwi Group, an all-women folk ensemble. Yet, the track aims high but falters under the weight of its own ambition.

Right from the outset, the song’s intro hooks the listener with a chorus that sounds like a distorted vintage radio clip—a nostalgic nod that quickly morphs into the familiar territory of Coke Studio’s tried-and-true formula. At this rate, even critiques of the platform’s familiar fizzle are becoming hackneyed. This rapid dive into the hallmark elements of their production is both the track’s strength and its downfall.

The song attempts to speed-run through its main beats: flowy vocals from one artist, an edgier performance from another, leading to a pre-chorus with harmonising members of Gharwi Group in a quintessentially “desi” style. This formula, though effective, becomes glaringly apparent within the first minute, making the structure feel both rushed and overly predictable. From this point onwards, the track is so unabashedly basic one wonders if Xulfi is being deliberately mediocre.

Visually, the accompanying video mirrors this frenetic pace, employing a one-shot technique that constantly moves from one set piece to another. While this continuous motion adds to the song’s energy, it also amplifies the feeling of an overproduced spectacle that is more dazzling than it is substantial.

Faris’ first verse and chorus suffer heavily from overproduction. The excessive autotune and melodic treatment strip away his unique punch, making his performance feel generic and replaceable. In stark contrast, Umair Butt’s delivery is solid, grounded in the popular Punjabi rap style reminiscent of Sidhu Moose Wala, yet it too borders on the familiar and predictable.

The production team’s penchant for digital effects is evident throughout the track. The vocal lines are frequently echoed by synth notes that linger just a bit longer than the vocals themselves—a blending effect that was intriguing at first but has since become a staple, if not a crutch, in their music. While this technique is interesting, its overuse across multiple songs has diminished its impact.

The Gharwi Group, providing the folk elements, performs decently within their two-line pre-chorus segment. However, their contribution feels like a checkbox ticked rather than a meaningful addition, bordering token representation of a set demographic one instinctively expects of Coke Studio by now.

Despite some bright spots, such as Faris’ more authentic and punchy second verse, Blockbuster ultimately suffers from the same issues plaguing many of Coke Studio’s recent productions. The relentless pursuit of a grand, over-the-top sound has resulted in a track that feels overly sanitised and devoid of the raw, human touch that once defined the series. The music is polished to the point of being sterile, with too many effects and an overall mix that comes across as muddled and excessively digital.

However, mostly Blockbuster can be diagnosed as ‘playing it too safe,’ adhering too closely to a formula that has grown stale. While technically proficient, the song lacks the emotional resonance and memorable hooks that could elevate it from good to great. It’s a technically sound track that, unfortunately, feels empty and formulaic, missing that elusive je ne sais quoi that breathes life into music.

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