Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Litigators - a mixed bag

book review

Book: The Litigators
Author: John Grisham

It has been nearly twenty three years since John Grisham wrote his first novel; it has been nearly ten since he wrote one that was actually worth reading. Yet, whether they lack character development, or a compelling storyline, or even an ending, his books continue to sell by the bucket load (that too in oversized buckets capable of holding millions of copies), in part due to readers like me who just don’t know when to give up. I have read each of Grisham’s legal thrillers since first discovering his work in the ‘90s, and despite my better judgement, still continue to dutifully visit Grishamville every year even though the idea that Grisham is – or at least was – a good storyteller is starting to wear thin in the face of ever diminishing evidence.

So has his latest novel, The Litigators, managed to rejuvenate my faith in the author whose books used to be one of my favourite guilty pleasures?

A typical John Grisham affair, The Litigators once again takes the ‘little lawyer versus big corporation’ idea and runs with it. In the midst of a meltdown, a young lawyer, David Zinc, walks out of a high paying job at the world’s third largest law firm, and into a world of ambulance chasing at a “boutique firm” specialized in “hustling injury cases”, and run by only two attorneys/partners who should have been disbarred way before the book even began. After one of the partners stumbles upon a mass tort case against a drug company, he tries to turn the opportunity into a get rich quick scheme, embroiling the firm in a massive lawsuit that they then struggle to cope with. Meanwhile, David also pursues a lead poisoning case separately, fighting for the five-year-old son of Burmese immigrants who suffers severe brain damage after playing with a lead-tainted set of plastic toy teeth.

The novel has a promising and gripping start, which, coupled with the book’s underlying wit, offers a well of opportunities to the writer. The opportunity the writer has chosen, however, is neither the most original, nor the most interesting road that could have been taken.

The main plot isn’t very riveting, and the sub-plot is just too convenient. What Grisham seems to have wanted to do was contrast the two situations; what he has done is put together two stories that drain the suspense out of each other. So as far as legal “thrillers” go, The Litigators is disappointingly devoid of thrill. As for the characters, you’ve met them all before in one form or another. And yes, the writer has played off of the negative stereotypes of lawyers yet again, so there are no surprises there either.

That said, The Litigators is still better than most things John Grisham has written recently. It may be a predictable and formulaic legal drama, but there are glimpses of old Grisham in parts of the book, and you are likely to enjoy the novel, especially its wry humour, perhaps even more so if you can’t figure out where the story is heading.

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 26th February, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Fray display monotony on new album

album review

Album: Scars & Stories
Band: The Fray

Since gaining worldwide recognition for their single ‘How to Save a Life’, The Fray have sold millions of albums, garnered comparisons to bands like Coldplay and Keane, and been the soundtrack to many a melancholy TV moment. While fans have embraced their heartfelt music, the band’s radio friendly pop-rock has also earned them (perhaps a tad more than their fair share of) sneers, with detractors panning them for lack of variety and originality. Neither fans nor detractors are likely to change their minds about the group after listening to their third album, Scars & Stories, the follow-up to their 2009 self-titled sophomore release.

With famed producer Brendan O’Brien (known for his work with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Incubus) at the helm of the project, Scars & Stories marks a decade since the formation of The Fray, and sees the Denver based foursome stick to what they know best: inoffensive piano-driven soft-rock. Comprised of twelve songs, all penned by the band members themselves, the album lets the band display scars and share stories in a 45 minutes long sonic journey. The group has used a wide source of inspiration - much of it gained through travelling to different parts of the world - to weave a dozen stories, which are served through Isaac Slade’s earnest vocal delivery, and ride a wave of sublime tunes and smooth melodies.

The record commences with the soaring lead single ‘Heartbeat’, a tale of escaping adversity and embracing love and life, powered by an uplifting melody and wrapped in a Coldplay-esque aura. An odd story of a boxer (who loses a bout) and his lover follows in ‘The Fighter’, which makes way for the sensual ‘Turn Me On’, the somewhat typical second single ‘Run for Your Life’, the pensive ‘The Wind’, and ‘1961’, a song that seems to reference the Berlin Wall by way of a divide between two brothers. The piano dominates in the aching ‘I Can Barely Say’, a ballad that evokes fragility and longing to return to what once was. ‘Munich’, unpredictably inspired by the Large Hadron Collider, stands out with a strong chorus and thoughtful lyrics. The pace is picked up with the musically heavier ‘Here We Are’, before returning to the more familiar mid-tempo territory for the dreamy ‘48 to Go’, and the beautiful ‘Rainy Zurich’ which features guitarist Joe King on lead vocals (and proves that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to take this role more often in the future). The album draws to an ends with the poignant ‘Be Still’, that would be at home in the background of a poignant moment in a television drama, as, in fact, would many of these songs.

The deluxe edition also comes with five bonus tracks, all covers, including Annie Lennox’s ‘Why’, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia’, and also features an appearance by Emmylou Harris on the cover of her song ‘Boulder to Birmingham’.

As a record, Scars & Stories displays both the band’s strengths and weaknesses. The instrumentation shows growth and is more confident; the yearning in the lyrics is palpable; and the harmonies are limited but effective. But put together as an album, the twelve songs face the same issue as The Fray’s previous work: monotony. The movement suggested by the album’s cover doesn’t make its way to the actual disk, and some of the songs are more than likely to leave you wondering if you’ve heard them before. Scars & Stories isn’t an ambitious record made to reinvent alternative rock and attract a whole new legion of fans. It is a safe record made to share some more standard soft rock with their fans, and it sticks to what the band is known for.

There is nothing wrong with most of the songs in isolation, but put together, there is something oddly non-descript and unmemorable about the album as a whole. The disk fails to offer anything new or different, which is why it comes off as middling, and that is what is so frustrating about the set: that the band seems content with generic mediocrity. Whereas the progression is evident for some other bands - for instance think of the direction that Coldplay have taken on Mylo Xyloto - The Fray seem happy in churning out more of the same. That said, if you like melodic pop rock, then you probably won’t mind the monotony. Even if the album does not make an immediate impact on the listener, it does grow on you with each listen. Multiple spins will give you a chance to appreciate the character of each track, and perhaps the songs will work better as singles than as an album in sequential rotation.

Overall, Scars & Stories is a collection of mostly mid-tempo pop rock ditties that are competent but lack originality. If you give the album a cursory listen, you probably won’t find the tracks to be instantly memorable, but repeat listens will help you get acquainted with each of them. The songs follow a familiar path and retreat to the band’s established nook, making no effort to exceed expectations. But while one side sees this as lack of variety, the other celebrates it as consistency. So if you didn’t enjoy their first two offerings, then Scars & Stories won’t change your mind; but those who have liked The Fray’s previous material will most likely not be disappointed with the new record.

Highlights: Heartbeat’, ‘Munich’, ‘Rainy Zurich’ and ‘Be Still’.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 19th February, 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reaping the Harvest - a chat with Sajid & Zeeshan


They first conquered the music scene with their song King of Self. Now they’re back with a brand new album, and releasing it in a novel way: as a free download, one song at a time. Sajid Ghafoor and Zeeshan Parwez are the flag bearers of English music in the Pakistani music industry, and their sophomore album, The Harvest, shows just why the duo has captured the interest of listeners everywhere. Here’s what they had to say about their new release:

Us: Please tell Us about your new album, The Harvest.
Sajid & Zeeshan: The title says it all. We worked hard for this one and followed a process to bring out the good crop. Musically and lyrically this album is a step ahead of our previous album. We tried to push ourselves more this time and we’re glad the response is quite good.

Us: How were the songs made? And how did they come together to form the album?
S&Z: All the songs were composed and written the same way it happened for the previous album, One Light Year at Snail Speed. No formula was ever used. It was more like starting off where we left it. The lyrics revolve around the “self” and everything that relates to the “self” – the achievements, the losses, the acceptance, the will to keep moving ahead; thinking for and thus beyond the self. It’s about happiness, pain, gratitude, celebration…anything that moves the soul from the inside.

Us: How has your sound progressed since the first album, One Light Year at Snail Speed?
S&Z: We believe it is more mature, includes more genres, and has some interesting tunes for everyone. It is the sort of album where anybody will be able to connect to its music and lyrics. It’s easy listening and gentle to the soul too.

Us: Your sophomore album comes nearly five years after your debut. Why the delay?
S&Z: The album was ready a year back, but we had issues such as which record label to go with and why, etcetera. Finally we decided it’s best to give it out to our fans for free. Even last time we faced some distribution issues. At least this time, it’s only a click away at

Us: Why did you choose to release the album digitally and for free? Who suggested this idea, and how did you decide this was the best way to unveil the new material?
S&Z: We decided that mutually, and we only did it for one reason: to make sure our music spreads as far as it possibly can.

Us: Will the album also get a physical release? If so, when?
S&Z: In CD format? Not really, but if anyone wants to, they can easily download our music and burn it on a CD and get the printouts for the covers too, and there you go, the CD is right there! :)

Us: Internationally, some musicians choose to give away their music for free while also finding ways to monetise their work. Do you also have a particular business model in mind?
S&Z: Nothing in mind yet. We’re going with the flow of things. Though as musicians based in Pakistan, just like any other musician out here, we all rely on concerts when it comes to money.

Us: Which song(s) from the album are each of you most proud of?
S&Z: We love the whole album. It’s hard to pick just one or few of them. To us they’re all gems.

Us: You recently released the video of Start with a Scratch. Please tell us about the video.
S&Z: It’s the first song from the album and we tried something new here. It made sense to go with the first track. The video was pretty tiring but rewarding at the same time. It was a lovely experience as this time we had quite a few locations to shoot. The concept of the video is simple. The video resonates with the lyrics of the song, and gives out the same “feel” to the eyes that the song gives to the “ears”. That was our concept, to blend it well.

Us: Which video(s) are you planning to release next?
S&Z: Personal Beast, Sanity, and Everything Changes a.k.a. Out of My Way.

Us: Do you think English music has progressed since you first appeared on the scene? Do you think it now has a wider audience and/or greater acceptance?
S&Z: Comparatively? Yes. Otherwise? Not really. But still glad things are progressing. These days more people are doing music in English and that is only happening since more people are listening to English music too.

Us: What can we expect from Sajid & Zeeshan in the coming months?
S&Z: More music and hopefully concerts too.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 17th February, 2012