A head-turning comeback 35 years after their last studio LP.
Alex Denney 2009
Tropicália has thrived in a spirit of contradiction since its inception more than 40 years ago. In mid-60s Brazil, with a military junta recently installed in government and CIA involvement suspected in the coup, anger at US imperialism simmered on the political left.
The Tropicálista group comprised musicians, poets and visual artists, and managed to rile militarist and dissident alike. Their playful mix of absurdism and protest landed them in hot water with censorious government-types – several exponents were tortured and exiled – but their cannibal art manifestos and appropriation of American rock and psychedelia into traditional Brazilian styles infuriated the artists and folkies of the left, too. Think Dylan’s Judas moment, only with heightened political consequences.
Anyway, the group behind the most celebrated artefact of that era, the freewheeling Os Mutantes LP of 1968, is no longer the group that sits before us. Os Mutantes aka The Mutants was initially the conception of two brothers, Arnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias Baptista, and vocalist Rita Lee. The band underwent many line-up changes with Dias as the lynchpin until its dissolution in 1978.
Dias briefly teamed up again with brother Arnaldo for a string of reunion shows in 2006, after a glut of Tropicália compilation releases handed them an international cult, but Baptista departed to continue solo pursuits. Lee was nowhere to be found, sniping that the band was just an opportunity for the brothers to "earn cash to pay for geriatry".
If that’s the case, then so be it: the band's first album in 35 years does a fine job of preserving the anarchic spirit – if not the personnel – of the original line-up. Granted, it’s a far slicker production than the fearless, spit-and-polish jobs of yesteryear, but there’s a freshness and purpose here that puts most veterans of the era to shame. Opening with a recording of Vladimir Putin addressing the Russian army, we segue straight into Querida, Querida, which reimagines Carlos Santana through the corrupting lens of Sparks.
Along with the sophisticated psych of Teclar, it’s one of several highlights to boast a co-writing credit for Tropicália luminary Tom Zé, while the terrific, lounge-lizard funk of O Careca belongs to samba-rock legend Jorge Ben Jor. A conspicuous roll-call, all told, for a head-turning comeback.