Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Tom Zé: Estudando O Pagode [Luaka Bop, 2006]
This exploration of a sexism fueled by the more blatant injustices of class and race doesn't cohere, but what "rock opera" does? Anyway, Z prefers the term "operetta," and with his avant-garde credentials is free to embrace episodic method. Much of the songs' philosophical punch is lost in the superb translations, a shortfall that probably reflects Z's special interest in the male chauvinist samba subgenre "pagode," the emotional resonances of which can't impact those who haven't lived with them. But no other Brazilian composer defies cultural boundaries so eloquently. Whether or not I absorb these songs' meaning when I read along, at any level of attention I feel the way they straddle pop and avant-garde, natural and mechanical, Brazil and the rest of the world. Those not-quite-metallic scraping noises you keep hearing? They come from one of Z's inventions, an instrument crafted from the leaf of the ficus trees that grow all over So Paolo. You blow into it. A-