When I Was Born For The 7th Time is the third album from Indian trip-hop/roots/experimental group Cornershop. This album is a mix of all sorts of things, blending it together into something that, unless you've heard Cornershop, you've never heard anything quite like it before. Oh, yeah, and there's Allen Ginsberg reciting one of his last poems over the sound of a Punjabi wedding march. The album has fifteen tracks, totaling fifty four minutes and eighteen seconds in length. It was released on September 8, 1997 by WEA and was distributed by Warner Bros.
Cornershop's sound, at least by the time they released this album, can best be described as this: take traditional Indian Punjabi music, deep fat fry it in a healthy dose of beat-heavy trip hop, and add a fair number of rock and folk elements, and you're finally starting to get somewhere close. It really sounded to me, when I first heard the album in late 1997, like a musical breath of fresh air.
The album opens with the single Sleep On The Left Side (4:06), a trippy slow-beat pop song produced by Dan the Automator which serves as a nice introduction to the album. The song itself sort of drifts along in a carefree way, but a more militant undertone runs through the words: "Sleep on the left side/keep the sword hand free," indeed.
The band's biggest hit, Brimful of Asha (5:17) (which, if you've heard a Cornershop song, this is the one you've likely heard as it got a fair amount of radio and MTV exposure in late 1997), is much more vibrant than the first song, coming alive with a repeated riff, some subtle strings, and spacy beats. The song itself is a tribute to singer Asha Bhosle, a near-legendary singer in her homeland; this explains the often-questioned line "Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow/mine's on the 45."
Butter The Soul (3:19) can best be described as sitar funk, I suppose. It's a very strange instrumental that segues nicely into the fourth track, Chocolat (1:24), another tripped-out instrumental. This instrumental segment, with two consecutive tracks, stands out on an album otherwise largely loaded with lyrics, but it's the lack of convention that Cornershop follows that makes this album amazing.
The fifth track, We're In Yr Corner (5:47), is in a language that I can't immediately place, but the words flow so well with the tripped out sitar and heavy beats that it really doesn't matter. It turns out this song is an anti-corporate protest song, but it makes no difference; the music sounds good, and that's what matters.
Funky Days Are Back Again (3:41) is pure retro-style hip-hop; revel in it. The lyrics might be pointed ("worker's strikes are back again," for example), but the song sounds like a shout from the days of Afrika Bambaataa and the Sugar Hill Gang.
What Is Happening? (2:15) is a samplefest extraordinaire, with what sounds like a repeated rant from Denis Leary buried underneath providing some of the backbone.
Allen Ginsberg is the focus of When The Light Appears Boy (2:41), where an ailing Ginsberg recites one of his last poems at his house while the band performs a Punjabi wedding march. It's done very well, and when Ginsberg finishes, the wedding march kicks into high gear in a very traditional-sounding march.
Coming Up (1:03) is another instrumental, loaded with beats from who only knows where, which segues beautifully into the tenth track, Good Shit (4:40). This song, if there is such a thing to be found here, is the most "mainstream" song on the disc... well, at least as much as a song with that title, trippy beats, nonstop drug references, and a sampled voice mumbling in Spanish ("uno, dos, tres, quatro") can.
The next song is straight up.... country. Good To Be On The Road Back Home (5:45) has vocals from the lead singer of alt-country/folk band Tarnation, Paula Frazer, and the lead singer and creative force of Cornershop, Tjinder Singh, in a duet. There's no tongue-in-cheek or anything; this is a straight up honest country song that any authentic country musician would be proud of.
The next track, It's Indian Tobacco My Friend (4:51), is another trippy instrumental using some traditional Punjabi elements and a bit of chanting. Again, it segues into the next track, Candyman (3:49), loaded with deep drums, distorted vocals, a lengthy rap segment, and a lot of sampling, making an interesting mix of stuff, but by this point in the album nothing is unusual anymore, so it just fits in. The chorus, though, will dig into your mind; be careful if you don't like song lines stuck in your head.
State Troopers (Part I) (3:07) is a final instrumental, segueing into the album closer, a cover of The Beatles' Norwegian Wood (2:27), which almost shocks you with its authenticity. It is sung in Punjabi, but the song is played with a lot of authenticity and respect for the Lennon/McCartney original. A very nice way to close such a varied album.
If you enjoy ethnic music and/or you enjoy eclectic trip-hop groups like Portishead, you'll likely really enjoy this album. It has a lot of elements to like.