Words by Alex Robinson
Caetano Veloso signs off his letters and emails with ‘um abraçaço’ (a big hug) and with this CD he signs off a trilogy which began with Cê and Zii e Zie, both of which received widespread critical acclaim. Abraçaço is a fusion of Caetano’s older tropicalia style and the indie-infused pop of contemporary urban Rio. His backing band comprises Pedro Sá (guitar), Marcelo Calado (drums) and Ricardo Dias Gomes (bass) – younger musicians at the current Carioca vanguard, who have worked with amongst others his son Moreno.
Abraçaço is altogether quieter and more melancholic than its two predecessors. It kicks off with an irreverent homage to bossa nova which sets the tone, almost subverting the genre. ‘A Bossa Nova e Foda’ translates as ‘bossa nova is fucking great!’, which is hardly the sunny, softly spoken bossa spirit. While the mood throughout Abraçaço is reflective and introspective, it is never sweet, and it never recalls some imagined golden past. Guitars jar rather than soothe, and Caetano’s lyrics are packed with lament, loss and invective. The sunny, poetic happy melancholy of the bossa ballads of Vinícius de Moraes are turned visceral and prosaic.
The dream of middle-class Brazil which dominates bossa is undermined by Caetano’s exposure of its often cruel political reality: ‘O Império da Lei’, whose quiet mood is underscored by a clatter of north-eastern Brazilian drums, tells the story of the murder of the Catholic environmentalist Dorothy Strang in the Amazon. All this is hard to appreciate if you speak no Portuguese, of course. It is a shame that language should be such a barrier to a full appreciation of this rich and truly contemporary album, which proves that, like David Bowie, Caetano is still relevant and exciting.
TRACK TO TRY: O Império da Lei
(On Decca Records)