In the wake of the great Brazilian singer Rita Lee’s death on May 8 at age 75 (RIP, queen), I re-listened to several Os Mutantes albums. Conclusion? Their scintillating 1968 debut remains their best—although 1969’s Mutantes and 1970’s A Divina Cómedia Ou Ando Meio Desligado come close. But let’s not kid ourselves: you need all three to lead an optimal life.
To be fair, Os Mutantes benefits substantially from songwriting input by some of Brazil’s Tropicália all-stars. Not to discount core trio Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista, and Sérgio Dias’ talents—which are world-class—but the greatest songs on Os Mutantes bear the fingerprints of Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Jorge Ben. The insanely ingenious arrangements by Rogério Duprat also enhance these 11 songs, imbuing in them the freewheeling sense that anything is possible.
The album launches with the amazing Gil/Veloso composition “Panis Et Circenses.” It’s a zenith of baroque psychedelic pop inspired by Sgt. Pepper’s, but stranger and, I daresay, more enchanting than anything on that groundbreaking LP. Mutantes deploy down-shifted vocals, false endings, loopy flute fanfare, unexpected tempo changes, and odd interludes, thereby announcing the arrival of world-class rock eccentrics.
But it gets better. They transform Jorge Ben’s “A Minha Menina” into absolutely euphoric samba rock with supremely fried fuzz-toned guitar riffs, which, I can vouch, sounds amazing on ac*d. “O Relógio” is a gorgeous, ethereal ballad in the vein of the United States Of America’s “Love Song For The Dead Che” that surprisingly shifts into a funky rocker before reverting to its original state of hushed beauty. “Bat Macumba”—another Gil/Veloso classic—stands as one of history’s greatest party bangers, augmented by one of the sickest distorted guitar parts ever; it sounds like a raspberry pitched way up and stuttered into a fucked-up Morse code message that reads, “you will never want to hear acoustic-guitar-based folk music again.” Right here, Dias stakes his claim as a guitar god.
Even the less-celebrated songs on Os Mutantes rule. “Trem Fantasma”—which Mutantes wrote with Veloso—is a deceptively swinging and trippy tune that transmogrifies with a wondrous dream logic. Written by Sivuca and Humberto Teixeira, “Adeus, Maria Fulô” rumbles on a groove as junglistic and humid as the Amazon rainforest and is tempered by an absurdly genial and plinky toy piano motif. While the masses love the infectious Veloso-penned ballad “Baby,” I find that its schmaltziness overshadows its sublimity, but I’m clearly in the minority on this one. Echt ’60s psychedelic-discotheque jam “Ave, Gengis Khan” closes the album with the epitome of the fab, hippy-shagging vibe. If it doesn’t appear in the next Austin Powers movie, nothing in this world makes sense.
When Os Mutantes played last year’s Freakout Festival in Seattle, they included at least a few tracks from their debut LP, reiterating how its kaleidoscopic power has not faded an iota since its release over 50 years ago. -Buckley Mayfield
Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.