Thursday 6 February 2020

Os Mutantes - Zzyzx (2020)

Country: Brazil
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020
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Genres are wonderfully flexible creatures. I've reviewed lots of psychedelic rock over the last year, from all over the world and ranging in style from Mooner to The Neptune Power Federation, from Ed Wynne to Uluru, from Children of the Sün to Superlynx. Surprisingly, many of those names are new but not all, the list also including Gong and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Here's one more for the older psychedelic rock list: a legendary Brazilian outfit by the name of Os Mutantes who formed in São Paulo way back in 1966, when playing live with Caetano Veloso was deemed a revolutionary act. Twelve wild and greatly important years later, they split up, but the two brothers who founded the band, Sérgio Dias and Arnaldo Baptista, reformed it for the fortieth anniversary in 2006, albeit without original singer Rita Lee. Dias still leads the band tody almost 55 years on.

The songs on this album are fascinating, lively and engaging pieces, but it falls very much on the soft side, even if we don't compare to the blistering Vengeful Spectre album I also reviewed today. There's exotica in here, bossa nova, lounge music. You could even call it easy listening, though it's much too active a listen for that to be fair. And I think it's delightful, though overly safe. Os Mutantes spent a while playing prog rock but this isn't that Os Mutantes, as they're mostly content to play with psychedelic pop.

I don't know enough about Brazilian pop music to suggest comparisons, but I do hear a lot of western pop, most obviously the Beatles. The opening song, Beyond, reminds of the Beatles in psychedelic pop mode and Dias's voice has a plaintive take on John Lennon's. The Last Silver Bird is similar and, late songs emphasise the comparison. Window Mirrors is the Beatles with a bluesy mood. We Love You is the Beatles if they ever got funky. Void, at least for a while, is the Beatles in their trancendental meditation era.

Two of those hint at prog, The Last Silver Bird featuring vocal harmonies at one point that sound proggy and Void being easily the most prog this album gets, with experimental sounds and even a scat vocal section. Maybe we could add Mutant's Lonely Night there too, the longest song on the album (at only four and a half minutes) exploring some light seventies darkness. However, I should emphasise "light" there, because Os Mutantes don't seem to want to go to those experimental places much any more.

Instead, they shift more towards being a sort of Brazilian version of Austin Lounge Lizards, a musically and lyrically talented band who write fantastic parodies and other humorous songs, but sometimes getting serious. This comes out most here on the playful Candy, with its doo wop chorus, and the comedic songs. Gay Matters turns the usual lovey dovey subject matter onto its head: "I want to make you mine but you're gay." And the title track, named for the real last town in the American atlas, is a fun, if not particularly original look at Area 51: "They have sexual encounters of third kind."

While Os Mutantes are Brazilian, they chose to sing this album primarily in English, perhaps because they're based in Las Vegas nowadays, which explains that and the Area 51 song. There are only two songs in Portugese, showing up next to each other late on the album, and they do add a little more exotic flavour. Sadly, one loses some of its impact because its chorus of "por que não" will be heard by English-speaking audiences as "Pooky, no!" Of course, that's the sort of thing that this playful band might actually do by choice.

It's difficult not to like this, because it's so contagious, but it's hardly essential stuff. The most interesting song is the last one, Void, and that's over before it even gets to three minutes; at thirteen, it might have had a lot more to say. Quite a few major musical names, like Beck, Flea and David Byrne, are confirmed fans of Os Mutantes. I wonder if they'd be disappointed at how relentlessly safe this album is or happy that the band are back with a new studio album after seven years.

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