Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-09-06


Gilberto Gil: Expresso 2222 (Universal, 1993) Gil's first post-exile album included just nine songs in 1973, was picked up by three seamlessly upbeat bonus tracks in 1993, and kept them in its 2008 U.S. edition. Dimmed by three years of firsthand London fog, his Anglophile popcraft immerses in carioca beats and funky acoustic guitar worthy of Brazil's future minister of culture, often too much so--the grooveful six-minute "Oriente" is downright dull. Fortunately, most of the tracks chew banana-flavored Chiclets and take their samba with bebop on the side. B+

Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil (Universal, 1998) This isn't Gil's only self-titled album, at least not in Brazil, and thus has gathered confusing nomenclature--my Brazilian re-release says "1968" on the spine, while the 2008 edition on the San Francisco-based reissue label Water is subtitled "Frevo Rasgado" by Amazon and B&N. But the cover's tropical take on Sgt. Pepper costumery never changes, and it's a tipoff. Aided by his young pals Os Mutantes, the 25-year-old harmonic sophisticate is charmed and inspired by the archly playful arrangements of pop psychedelica. But though it must have been hard to hear in the hippie years, Gil's post-sambas resemble show tunes more than they do "Tomorrow Never Knows" or "See Emily Play." He took the Beatles' abandonment of the straight groove as an excuse to emulate any kind of Anglo-American pop he wanted, with tropical rhythms for decoration. The tunes are so striking that I keep thinking I know the first few from tropicalia comps that actually favor others. The four bonus tracks drop off slightly if at all. And then there are the lyrics, available via cyber-translation that commits its quota of howlers and head-scratchers but also indicates that this Third Worlder saw the world more fully and clearly than his British exemplars and was probably a better poet too. A-

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