Don't Kill the Mensageiro
If these 19 tracks’ worth of funky bizarre psychedelic rock from Brazil all sounded like the opener, O Bando’s “É Assim Falava Mefistófeles”, I would probably say that this was the greatest single compact disc of music ever manufactured. This 1969 song, the title of which translates as “Thus Spake Mephistopheles”, manages to incorporate every single kind of 20th-century music that had ever been heard until then (the liner notes say James Brown, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Arthur Brown, and Tropicalia, but they’re forgetting at least twelve other genres, including free jazz, big band, garage rock, Memphis soul, and early experimental electronica) and make it work within one four-minute pop blast.
This is probably the best song ever recorded. To compare anything else to it is incredibly unfair. But that is what we do, we who write about music—we make unfair comparisons. So I guess the sad news is that the rest of this compilation doesn’t measure up. But the good news is that it tries damned hard.
This isn’t really a survey of all Brazilian psychedelic music, because it doesn’t collect any of the heavy hitters of Tropicalia: no Caetano Veloso (damn, didn’t he look good at the Academy Awards singing with Lila Downs?), no Gal Costa, no Os Mutantes, and no Gilberto Gil. But that’s okay, because you can always find early stuff by those acts; where else can you find insane hyperspazzy grungy acid-drenched protopunk work by Módulo 1000 or Os Brazôes or the Buttons? Nowhere else, baby.
So let’s talk about them. Módulo 1000’s contribution here, “Animalia”, sounds like a warm up jam by three different guitarists and one backwards-ass guitar-playing ghost for its entire running time, which is all of two minutes. The great Os Brazôes, whose contribution here is “Tâo Longe de Mim”, must have been equally addicted to early Hendrix and the Hair soundtrack, because that’s what their delicate/hard song sounds like. (That title, by the way, translates to “So Far of Me.” Has anything ever been better than that? Uh, no.) And sure, there must have been 50 groups called the Buttons—but how many of them featured whistling and flutes as lead instruments in a song? Their tune, “Birds in My Tree”, is actually sung in English, and compares favorably to early Moody Blues, who were actually cool as hell, as are the Buttons.
Some of these songs virtually pole-vault out of your speakers and attack your head like little tiny ninjas of melody. Another English-language track, Sound Factory’s “Let’s Go”, features some truly horrible high-tenor vocals and some truly stunning guitar work and some incredibly funky drum breaks and absolutely no sense of song structure at all—it’s the angry jealous and still-hot ex-wife who will not be ignored of this collection, and it fades out at the perfect time. Another wow moment comes with “Marácas de Fogo” by Lula Côrtes and Zé Ramalho; it’s acid-flamenco, with samba-flavored percussion and an Isley-worthy guitar freak-in. No words, really, just some chanted syllables, but the guitar work is world-class, and so is the chorus of broken glass that ends the song.
I wish everything was as exciting as the previous examples, but sadly that’s not the case. Some stuff is just pretty much pro forma fun psychedelia/Tropicalia. A Bolha’s song “Razão de Existir”, fortified with words in English, could have been any song on AM radio in 1969—there’s nothing inherently strange or cool or Brazilian about it, it’s just good and kinda rock-y. The same could be said about “Mensageiro”, by Paulo Bagunça, except you’d have to substitute “hippie-funk-y” for “rock-y.” And then there’s some stuff that’s just dull, like the first 20 seconds of Hugo Filho’s “Quero Você, Você”, before it goes shuffle, and then reverb-slowjam, and then AOR, and then back, and then forward, and then into your heart. Actually, even the worst stuff here is amazing and brilliant and studly, and you need it.
Oh, to have more time to write about Bango’s “Inverno no Mundo” (? and the Mysterians meet Zeppelin) or Spectrum’s “Trilha Antiga” (big fat guitar swaggers into town, demands liquor, decides to stay a while) or “Revolução Orgânica” by Marcos Valle/Vento Sul, which might actually be better than “É Assim Falava Mefistófeles”, which would mean that it was actually the new greatest song in the world.
And any CD with the two greatest songs in the world deserves a home in your home.