Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Caetano Veloso

  • A Foreign Sound [Nonesuch, 2004] A-
  • Ce [Nonesuch, 2006] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

A Foreign Sound [Nonesuch, 2004]
The model isn't Rod Stewart except insofar as "Maggie May" would fit on a U.K.-themed follow-up. It's the Willie Nelson of Stardust--songwriting adept as stealth interpreter. Where the Music Row grad reduced verse-chorus-verse chestnuts to chorus-chorus singalongs, the tropicalia intellectual deconstructs American composition. Jaques Morelenbaum is a salty Nelson Riddle, many arrangements highlight rhythm, and some are surprisingly stark. Tackled are two Porters, two Gershwins, two Berlins, two Rodgers, six other standards, and eight rock-era songs of dumbfounding variety. Dylan, Cobain, Byrne, and Wonder we're ready for. Maybe "Love Me Tender." But Paul Anka's "Diana"? Morris Albert's "Feelings"? Plus all 1:30 of DNA's disruptive "Detached," with Arto Lindsay's flailings arranged for symphony orchestra? Flops include Wonder's oddly tuneless "If It's Magic" and the irreparable "Feelings"--only it turns out Albert was from Brazil, and anyway, "Feelings" is followed hard on by an a cappella reading of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" that indicts all romantic pop except Porter's "So in Love." A-

Ce [Nonesuch, 2006] Dud

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1980s]: The most credible explanation of why this soft-sung João Gilberto acolyte has more art-pop cachet than middlebrow icon Milton Nascimento or pop-r&b genius Gilberto Gil compares Veloso to Andy Warhol: supposedly he puts a lovingly ironic twist (you know, minor chords) on the sappy melodiousness of Brazilian music. No doubt it helps if you know the native language of this certified left-internationalist pop intellectual--the title song of 1989's Arto Lindsay-produced Estrangeiro (translations provided, and definitely where any American should begin) adduces Gauguin, Levi-Strauss, and Cole Porter in the first three lines. To me he just sounds soft-sung and sappily melodious. Guess I'm just wrong.

Subjects for Further Research [1990s]: I only gained respect for the Kurt-Weill-X-Bing-Crosby of tropicália artsong in the '90s, especially admiring 1999's Bahiabeat-cum-jungle (as in techno, not the Amazon) Livro and the irrepressible Gilberto Gil collaboration Tropicália 2. But the latter record belongs to Gil, the only Brazilian musician save the avant-unique Tom Zé striking enough to carry an Anglophone provincial past his or her Portuguese. I really don't understand how non-Lusophones can wax ecstatic over a songpoet whose words they know from a trot--which, let me add, may not be as poetic as one dreams. So if some polyglot wanted to call him the greatest popular musician of our era, I wouldn't be inclined to argue. I'd just shrug.