Ratu Rock
by Ella, pop/rock (2005)
EMI, ISBN 94633-95352


Ratu Rock is Malay for "Queen of Rock" and this is an apt title for this compilation of Malaysian female rockstar Ella's more well-known hit songs spanning the 1990s to today. Ella still holds at the time of writing the local record for the bestselling female artist for pushing more than 300,000 copies of her records during the peak of her career. Of course, she is not as popular today as she was in those days which is understandable as she has been active in the music scene since the 1980s and nobody can remain a bestselling fad for all time. From her days as the frontslady for Ella and the Boys to her solo career days, Ella is probably the most popular and most successful female rock artist of her time.

Still, the concept of "rock" music here leans more towards tame radio-friendly fodder like ballads rather than actual heavy leanings like one would expect from, say, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The fault lies solely on Malaysia's Minister of Information of those days, for whom the word "imbecile" is actually inadequate when it comes to describing the close-minded xenophobic moron. Those were the days when you could get banned from TV and radio for sporting long hair, after all. Therefore, the tracks on Ratu Rock are either ballads or midtempo songs that won't cause the heart to beat faster or the nose to start bleeding. Having said that, this compilation is perfect for me who enjoys many of Ella's more popular songs without having to purchase her old CDs separately.

There are thirty songs on this double-disc compilation (the compilation costs only the price of a single CD - talk about value for money) and three of them are new. Of these, my favorites are Perang Cinta (War Of Passion), her duet with Farah, a contestant from Akademi Fantasia 2, and Kau Tiada Ganti (You Are Irreplaceable), a duet with popular local artist Waheeda. The former is a bombastic diva-style ballad where Ella manages to keep up and hold her own very well against Farah's incredible beltings (how did Farah lose to Zahid again - oh yes, she's not a guy; stupid voters of that show) while the latter is an Arabic-influenced midtempo song that manages to be exotic and easy on the ears at the same time. Both guest artists are from a genre very different from Ella yet Ella manages to pull off her parts in those songs very well.

Still, listening to her older gems is an even more enjoyable experience. Layar Impian (Sail of Dreams) must surely be one of the best Malay songs ever created - it has a gentle, soothing, and catchy melody, the lyrics are poignant and introspective, and Ella has never sounded better, the song working her usually distinctive husky voice to its full advantage. This is one of her many wonderful songs that come from the collective creative juices of M Nasir's Luncai Emas stable, which goes to prove, I suppose, how M Nasir has been an invaluable figure in the growth of the Malaysian music industry. Likewise, the M Nasir-penned haunting ballad Menanti (Waiting) is another unforgettable song from Ella. There are some fabulous uptempo songs as well, from the infectiously catchy PPP to the soaring summertime fun that is Nuri (Parrot). Demi is also an irresistible midtempo tune that stick to the mind and doesn't let go.

This compilation also demonstrates that Ella isn't a polished singer - she's a raw singer who needs the right compositions to shine. When the song is perfect for her, like M Nasir's compositions, Ella never sounded better. When the song is an unimaginative ballad that does nothing for her, Ella sounds trite and banal. Because this compilation has roughly as many forgettable songs as there are tracks to remember and replay always, I can't in good conscience rate this compilation higher. But be rest assured that Ratu Rock will be played often on my CD player for the foreseeable future!

Rating: 88


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