Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Caetano Veloso [extended]

  • Tropicália 2 [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1994] A-
  • A Foreign Sound [Nonesuch, 2004] A-
  • Ce [Nonesuch, 2006] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Caetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil: Tropicália 2 [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1994]
Playful, pretentious, political, speculative, and above all gorgeous, this collaboration is enough to make me stop carping about kitsch and wonder whether samba isn't the pop avant-garde after all. Gil gains a beguilingly arty patina as he grounds Veloso's precious lyricism, and if the translations reduce primal beauty to intelligence, that's what we get for never studying Portuguese. Not only do the airy tunes and shimmering beats promise an endless summer, they prove heat needn't addle the brain. A-

A Foreign Sound [Nonesuch, 2004]
The model isn't Rod Stewart except insofar as "Maggie May" would fit on a U.K.-themed follow-up. It's the Willie Nelson of Stardust--songwriting adept as stealth interpreter. Where the Music Row grad reduced verse-chorus-verse chestnuts to chorus-chorus singalongs, the tropicalia intellectual deconstructs American composition. Jaques Morelenbaum is a salty Nelson Riddle, many arrangements highlight rhythm, and some are surprisingly stark. Tackled are two Porters, two Gershwins, two Berlins, two Rodgers, six other standards, and eight rock-era songs of dumbfounding variety. Dylan, Cobain, Byrne, and Wonder we're ready for. Maybe "Love Me Tender." But Paul Anka's "Diana"? Morris Albert's "Feelings"? Plus all 1:30 of DNA's disruptive "Detached," with Arto Lindsay's flailings arranged for symphony orchestra? Flops include Wonder's oddly tuneless "If It's Magic" and the irreparable "Feelings"--only it turns out Albert was from Brazil, and anyway, "Feelings" is followed hard on by an a cappella reading of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" that indicts all romantic pop except Porter's "So in Love." A-

Ce [Nonesuch, 2006] Dud

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1980s]: The most credible explanation of why this soft-sung João Gilberto acolyte has more art-pop cachet than middlebrow icon Milton Nascimento or pop-r&b genius Gilberto Gil compares Veloso to Andy Warhol: supposedly he puts a lovingly ironic twist (you know, minor chords) on the sappy melodiousness of Brazilian music. No doubt it helps if you know the native language of this certified left-internationalist pop intellectual--the title song of 1989's Arto Lindsay-produced Estrangeiro (translations provided, and definitely where any American should begin) adduces Gauguin, Levi-Strauss, and Cole Porter in the first three lines. To me he just sounds soft-sung and sappily melodious. Guess I'm just wrong.

Subjects for Further Research [1990s]: I only gained respect for the Kurt-Weill-X-Bing-Crosby of tropicália artsong in the '90s, especially admiring 1999's Bahiabeat-cum-jungle (as in techno, not the Amazon) Livro and the irrepressible Gilberto Gil collaboration Tropicália 2. But the latter record belongs to Gil, the only Brazilian musician save the avant-unique Tom Zé striking enough to carry an Anglophone provincial past his or her Portuguese. I really don't understand how non-Lusophones can wax ecstatic over a songpoet whose words they know from a trot--which, let me add, may not be as poetic as one dreams. So if some polyglot wanted to call him the greatest popular musician of our era, I wouldn't be inclined to argue. I'd just shrug.