For all the avowed influence it has had on modern pop and rock, the music of Os Mutantes remains deeply enmeshed with a particular place and time. It’s a heady place and time for sure: Brazil in the late 1960s, when local roots, youth culture, rock music and avant-garde art all came together to stand against a military dictatorship in the form of the ebulliently beautiful Tropicalia movement. With this in mind, one might be forgiven for worrying about just what might result from the band’s reunion some 40 years later. Haih offers proof that there is no need for worry after all. Os Mutantes come through with humor, chops and imagination intact – even renewed.
As one might expect, there is a dizzying array of styles and approaches here, sometimes presented in straightforward ways, but more often stacked up and interwoven – cut and pasted and collaged. For example, the rootsy accordion-driven nordestina of “2000 e Agarrum” is built up on dirty ’70s-style hard rock riffing by guitarist and founding band member Sergio Dias, with interludes of crooning cabaret and circus polka. Big-band salsa arrangements, Middle Eastern oud, Beatles-esque vocals and chord progressions, Zappa-esque flights of organized chaos – they all stand out at various times throughout the disc. In the midst of all this, Dias is a noticeably compelling and articulate guitar player, seeming to leap infinite styles and attitudes in a single bound.
But, for all the eclecticism, humor, and mutability, it might well be the purest pop instincts of Os Mutantes that make for the deepest connection with their past. “O Careca” begins as an enthralling bossa/samba/funk confection, redolent of ’80s-era Caetano Veloso. But it gradually morphs into some killer Brazilian fusion, with jazzy Fender Rhodes, slick B-3 and shredding guitar. If one song might stand for the whole disc—and for Os Mutantes’ fresh approach – it might be “Neurosciencia De Amor,” which skates along on a strange and alluring blend of new-wave punch, chromatic hard-rock guitar riffing and psychedelic sunshine pop vocals. There’s a mysterious, liberating joy to it all.
One of the Tropicalia movement’s absurd – but undeniably true and powerful – catch phrases, translated into English, was “We prohibit prohibitions.” Decades later, Os Mutantes echo that idea in their sonic approach, which seems to say “no” to saying “no” to any style or sound it encounters.