Continuing on with a hunger to constantly challenge both themselves and their audience, this version of Os Mutantes upholds the band’s legacy and legendary status.
Os Mutantes were always schizophrenic. Born of brothers Arnaldo and Sérgio Dias Baptista and lead singer Rita Lee, their first two records from the late ‘60s were eclectic intoxicating journeys, seamlessly combining tropicalia, bossa nova, and samba music with the psychedelic rock of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix into their own warped style of songwriting. This was psychedelic music completely distinct from anything else in its time. Their 1968 self-titled debut album is a masterwork of diverse sounds and styles, all mixed together with unbridled creativity and a great sense of humor. Beginning with their third album A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado and until their split in the late 1970s, Os Mutantes progressively moved away from the psychedelic rock of their first two albums to a more straightforward rock style. The original band called it quits after 1974’s Tudo Foi Feito Pelo Sol, although Sergio Diaz Baptiste was the only original member of the band to take part in this album, carrying the band forward until 1978. Their first few records are still exciting works of art. In 2006, Os Mutantes reformed without original lead singer Rita Lee for some reunion shows and after Arnaldo Baptista left again, Dias decided to keep the band going. Thus came 2009’s excellent Haih or Amortecedor and now the arrival Fool Metal Jack, their second album since reforming and tenth record overall.
Unlike Haih or Amortecedor and the rest of the band’s catalog, Fool Metal Jack is mostly sung in English. The album is Dias’ second collaboration with Tom Zé and Jorge Ben, both flamenco veterans who actually wrote Os Mutante’s first hit “Minha Menina” and also appeared on Haih or Amortecedor. Fool Metal Jack kicks off with “The Dream Is Gone”, a psychedelic acoustic ballad with accordion and reverbed guitars that builds in to a beautifully harmonized chorus. It is quickly followed by the title track, a dark, Tom Waits Rain Dogs-era style meditation on the miseries of war. The song’s sinister style includes croaking vocals that even cough right in time with the song while guitars blare like sirens. “Picadilly Willy” follows the title track with a disturbing prog-rock plod that wouldn’t be out of place on a Frank Zappa album circa Hot Rats.
Whereas the original incarnation of Os Mutantes had a youthful, mischievous sense of humor and fun, this version has a more twisted sense of it. “Eu Descobri” is a throwback to the band’s original tropicalia style. It is both the only song on the album not sung in English and the only with female lead vocals. Featuring acoustic guitar, flute, and cello, as well as a Nine Inch Nails sounding synthesizer, the song combines sounds that on paper shouldn’t work but somehow works really well together. Here more than anywhere else on this record, the band sounds like they are embracing the style of their past but instead of simply copying it, taking it to newer places, places that weren’t even technologically possible when Os Mutantes first started recording in 1968. “Time and Space” is beautiful space rock rumination on reality and humanity’s place within it, standing out as the most stunning song on the album. Even with its gorgeous melody, the song is arranged in a striking and imaginative way.
Each song on Fool Metal Jack is very distinct from the last, bouncing from genre to genre, and a person who didn’t know they were listening to an album by one band couldn’t be blamed for thinking they were listening to a mix or compilation of several very different bands. That in and of itself is the best part and biggest flaw of the album. Each song is well written and impeccably arranged but the album often bounces along from one style to another, sounding as though each song is paying tribute to various influences instead of combining them all to create a distinct sound of its own. The Jamaican accent on “Ganja Man”, a reggae song and the only song in the band’s catalog to even hint at a Jamaican accent or reggae, for that matter, proves my point. The good thing about it is that the band seems to be constantly searching, bringing a restless artistic spirit to every song on the album. Many bands from the late ‘60s have reunited in various forms throughout the past 20 years but I can’t think of a single one that made even remotely interesting music in their reunited forms. Os Mutantes are still creating music that is compelling when all of their ‘60s contemporaries have long since faded away. Continuing on with a hunger to constantly challenge both themselves and their audience, this version of Os Mutantes upholds the band’s legacy and legendary status.