“Selamat datang ke masa depan (Welcome to the future),” croons Butterfingers’ frontman Emmett in “Joget Global”, the opening track for their comeback album, Kembali. However, for all their enthusiasm in paving the future of Malaysian music, Kembali was chock-full with nods and references to nostalgic Malaysian folk songs and oldies.
“Joget Global” starts with a recital in the style of syair, the melodic Malay poetry, before exploding into a call of “Lat-tali-lat-tali-tamplong!” (a traditional game chant, similar to “Scissor, paper, rocks”) atop a guitar riff reminiscent of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” heavy metal section. Another song “Bebas” opens each verse with “Enjit enjit/ semut, siapa sakit naik atas”, another staple in traditional children games. The intro of “Lengkap Semula” channels The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black” but the chorus samples the melody of P. Ramlee’s classic “Anakku Sazali”.
Just like Radiohead, Butterfingers started off as a raw rock band, but the pivotal album Malayneum (like Kid A) transformed them into a more experimental and progressive band. The experiment peaks with their last album Selamat Tinggal Dunia, done fully in Malay (instead of English) and veering further away from alternative rock sounds. It seems that Butterfingers is now content with their exploration, and Kembali signals a return to a more stable rock style and sound.
Compared with Selamat Tinggal Dunia which is a tad elitist with its verbose and poetic lyrics, Kembali is more down-to-earth, music for the masses. The lyrics are more prosaic and Emmett has eschewed the formal baku pronounciation for the casual Johor-Riau style.
On one hand there are the straight-forward hard-rocking pop monsters, led by guitarist Loque’s new-found love for riff-based tracks. The best two songs has to be “Maharani”, the jolly second single driven by a simple violin melody and the sweet love ditty “Terus Terang”. Then there’s “Air Liur Kuala Lumpur”, a garage rock ode to the metropolitan, in the vein of Selamat Tinggal Dunia‘s “Merpati Sejoli”. “1000 Tahun (Mahu Hidup)”, the anthemic first single completes the campaign to take back the Malaysian airwaves.
The experimental side presents itself with “Lengkap Semula” which blends myth and sci-fi with its mention of golden bridges (from Puteri Gunung Ledang), Taj Mahals, time machines and spaceships. “Merdeka” has Pak Kassim Masdor, musical extraordinaire, guesting on a keroncong composition which sadly falls short without any backing flutes and sound like something from Vampire Weekend’s catalogue. The most experimental track however, is “Mendaki Menara Condong”, with its drum-machine, synth and effects-laden sounds.
Then there are the delightful surprise “Mati Hidup Semula”, a sparse ballad with just piano and acoustic guitar backing layers of overdubbed vocals. It’s their “Let It Be”, as more than one fan have claimed.
As if feeling their street-cred is not enough, Butterfingers seems to be overly fond of noise, which intersects between every songs. The opening track might throw off the rhythm of listeners with an uncomfortable 5 minutes long of noise and effects.
All in all, the message of the album is clear: Butterfingers is a bunch of reborn Malaysians, proud of their national language, proud of their own identity and no longer dwells in the shadow of musical colonialism. No longer do we need to look to our neighbours for an exciting and lively scene. Now, all they ask is for the public to join them in doing the same.
One line from the album resonates heavily: “kera di hutan disusukan/ anak di rumah mati kelaparan”.