Two years after its release in Europe and South America, the third, award-winning installment of Caetano Veloso’s collaborative effort with Carioca musicians Banda Cê, finally sees the light of day in the North American market. The title Abraçaço, or “Big Hug”, was derived from a valediction Veloso uses on a regular basis to conclude his e-mails, so it’s only fitting that the final recording of the trilogy was named as such. The lavish orchestral flourishes found throughout 2004’s crossover album A Foreign Sound were abandoned at the beginning of the project, so those expecting the same sweeping romanticism might be disappointed if they are just now tuning back into Veloso’s career. That cinematic lushness has been wrestled to the ground and replaced with a raw, stripped-back aesthetic, one that has gradually been refined since the project began with 2007’s Cê and was further explored on 2009’s zii e zie. Once again, the seemingly ageless septuagenarian inventively fuses the Tropicália style with an indie pop sensibility, pleasantly challenging his ever-fluctuating artistic muse and his avid audience in the process.
The small, youthful band consists of guitarist Pedro Sá, who co-produced the album with Caetano’s son Moreno, Marcelo Callado on drums and Ricardo Dias Gomes on bass and Rhodes piano. For such a limited instrumental palette, Abraçaço never suffers from the monochromatic sameness that occasionally marred the previous two outings. It’s a tamer, less rock-centric affair, with Sá’s guitar solos only popping up intermittently. Veloso’s lyrical tongue, however, is just as sharp as it has always been, albeit less provocative this time around, effortlessly flitting between tasteful sensuality and a fearless rebelliousness.
The delightfully vulgar opening track “A Bossa Nova é Foda”, roughly translated to “Bossa Nova Is the Fucking Shit”, is a jaunty ode to João Gilberto, “the Wizard of Juazeiro”, and the genre he created. Veloso’s delivery fluctuates between a rubbery falsetto and the low, gravely sound of vocal fry, as he sings about seemingly unrelated things, while being surrounded by a decidedly non-Bossa Nova-esque musical setting. Dropping the names of mixed martial artists Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva, Odysseus’s swineherd and friend Eumaeus and even Bob Dylan, here labeled as the “Jewish Bard of Minnesota”, Veloso’s love of the written word is proudly splattered across the song’s name-dropping canvas. Whether it makes any sense to the listener is quite another issue, but the accompanying lyric sheet cuts through the language barrier, providing an uncomplicated way to pour over the eccentric poetry.
From there on out, the songs careen from one style, rhythm and melody to the next. Sá’s fuzzed-out guitar solo injects a sexy grittiness into the laid-back, shuffling pace of the funky title track “Um Abraçaço”, while Veloso waxes philosophical, singing ” I don’t trace my destiny, don’t draw or unmake it. Chance is the Grandmaster”. The despondent ballad “Estou Triste”, melds Veloso’s desolate lyrics with a skeletal arrangement and metronomically strummed guitars, perfectly supporting the idea that less is often more. The percussive and deceptively lighthearted air of “O Império da Lei”, belies the threatening lyrics within. For a song that concerns itself with seeking lawful revenge for the murder of a loved one, it’s a rather sunny affair, except for when the time signatures change on a jerky whim. It’s quite possible Veloso was referring to Sister Dorothy Mae Stang, the American-born, Brazilian member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who was murdered in the northern state of Pará after being threatened by land owners and loggers for her outspoken position on poverty and the environment. Whether Veloso wrote the song with Stang’s murder in mind remains unknown, but it’s one of Abraçaço‘s best compositions either way.
The relaxed romantic ballad “Quero Ser Justo” memorably lingers in the mind like a wink and a winsome smile from a stranger in a crowd. It’s a welcome respite before the tediously drawn-out “Um Comunista” arrives to slow things down to a funeral pace. The eulogistic song celebrates the life and decries the death of Brazillian Marxist revolutionary and writer Carlos Marighella. While a politically-charged hymn of resistance, the kind that avant-garde French singer-songwriter Brigitte Fontaine excels at crafting, is always a welcome alternative to the lyrical norm, at eight minutes and 33 seconds long, it’s easy to appreciate the content, without truly enjoying the execution. Speaking of Fontaine, the angry, erratic, rap-infused seventh track “Funk Melódico” honestly wouldn’t have seemed out of place on her sonically adventurous album Kekeland.
The libidinous duo of “Vinco” and “Quando O Galo Cantou” drip with a not so subtle poetic eroticism, and at times are quite humorous with their bawdy wordplay and imagery. Musically they’re a quiet return to the stately elegance Veloso has perfected over the course of his 47 years in the spotlight. The bouncy “Parabéns”, or “Congratulations”, calls to mind the absurd playfulness of Sabina Sciubba’s band Brazilian Girls, if they decided to strip their sound of any electronic influences. The spacious “Gayana”, written by fellow Tropicalismo artist and musician Rogerio Duarte, concludes the set with an unabashed romantic sentimentality.
The iconic 71-year-old musician shows little sign of physical or artistic fatigue with his latest, and it even appears he’ll be embarking on a US tour to support the album’s release later this year. Abraçaço proves to be the most confident, intricate and innovative of the trilogy, as if the previous, well-crafted installments were but mere experimental sketches for the final painting. With a voice that seemingly never ages, a poetic lyricism that continues to challenge his view of the world around him, and a seemingly unending desire to evolve as a songwriter, Abraçaço shows that Veloso has only whet his creative appetite.