Bit difficult, this one. How does a highly inventive, inspirational, influential, and often imitated/never duplicated band return after 35 years with a new statement? Why bother? We’ve seen what comebacks can do to the original facades of legendary work. It ain’t always a pretty sight, especially if said band is known for being innovative in the great halls of weirddom. Well…one can sidestep that nasty little critical conundrum, laced with legions of watered-down product, by just focusing on what it does best.
In this case, the band in question is the psychedelic Tropicália legends Os Mutantes, and the band has finally returned with new music after playing numerous ‘test-the-polluted-water’ shows in recent years. Their history is well-documented, and if you haven’t heard of them, please, forcrissakes, stop reading now, and go and dig through their catalogue, studio or otherwise. (1968’s self-titled debut is a more than passable start.) All right. Yes. Yes. Pretty heady, huh? When you’re less high, read on. And so… the Brazilian master sound deconstructors/montagists return with a new declaration of independence, and they have, indeed, focused on just trying to deliver great tunes with a few smidgens of weirdness thrown in for eccentricities sake. (I sense a recent pattern here.)
OM has influenced everyone from David Byrne—who arguably has assimilated more from Brazil and filtered it into new and fresh music than any other modern-era musician, at least Western-oriented—to Kurt Cobain, who, I think, appreciated the wonderfully explosive nature of their hedonistically-charged lyrics as much as their William S. Burroughs-like cut-scramble-toss up-and-paste carnival music. Thus, Mutantes aka The Mutants, has a lot to live up to, and co-founding member Sérgio Dias gathers disparate members, old, new and borrowed, to conjure up their sometimes abstract bliss again.
Working with Tom Ze and Jorge Ben, Diaz does, indeed, find the spine of the band’s legacy by honing in on their eccentric arrangements and finding the tune within. More often than not, it works, as on the whacked-out Floydian march of “Querida Querida,” the lilting ’70s AM radio meets mariachi music on “Teclar,” the sublime Latino dance hall strut found on “2000 E Agarrum” and “O Careca,” the exquisite “Nada Mudou,” and the Beatles revisited on “Anagrama.” The piece only gets dragged down into tedium in a few spots with the turgid “Bagdad Blues,” and the almost… gasp… Tom Petty-like pace of “O Mensageiro,” which is far too common terrain for Mutantes to tread. “Gopala Krishna Om” works for the somnambulist-inclined, and didn’t track either way on my radar.
Does this album enhance their body of work? No. Does this work scream innovation, experimentation, and the Dawn of a New Age? No. Is this new album—35 years after their last release—pivotal and essential? No. (How does one outrace a daunting shadow?) Is it a solid album that might help open the door to a listener’s mind for more exploration into the great Os Mutantes’ catalogue? Yes, and that is what may be most crucial about this release, as well as the occasionally engaging new tunes themselves.