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Let's review. Os Mutantes were a psychedelic rock band at the center of Brazil's acid rock-influenced "tropicalia" movement of the late 1960s. One of the most chaotic and musically experimental groups of the late-'60s Brazilian crowd, they played backup on the first solo albums of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, as well as on the landmark TROPICALIA compilation which also featured Veloso, Gil, Gal Costa and Nara Leao.

After the original band split up, Arnaldo Baptista pursued a solo pop career, which was tragically cut short by a crippling emotional depression which led, in 1982, to an apparent suicide attempt where he leapt out of a window and subsequently spent the rest of the decade in physical therapy and rehabilitation. Although he eventually reemerged and recorded sporadically with a few younger artists, Baptista remained a recluse, living in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Here's a quick look at his work...




Let's Make A Movie!



Discographies

Arnaldo Baptista "Loki?" (Polygram, 1974)
A ridiculously overwrought '70s rock album, with Baptista's piano work going into full Billy Joel overdrive. Terribly earnest and a bit cluttered, this was apparently recorded when Arnaldo was entering into a deep, dark, suicidal depression, although I'm not sure that this bleakness was reflected in these eclectic and far-reaching tunes. I wouldn't exactly tell you to run out and get this album, but it's definititely worth checking out, and has plenty of die-hard fans. Several ex-Mutantes pals pitch in, including Rita Lee, Liminha, and famed tropicalia arranger, Rogerio Duprat. Pretty goofy, overall, but a nice period piece. Many fans swear by this album.


Arnaldo Baptista "Singin' Alone" (Virgin-Brazil, 1982)
A genuinely weird, frequently enchanting album that puts Baptista smack dab in the intersection of Prog Street and Lo-Fi Boulevard. He captures the best spirit of both aesthetics, with a playful, cockeyed take on the whole absurd notion of making a record in the first place... sort of like a Brazilian Alex Chilton. Dribs and drabs of his early '70s boogie rock past also come into place on this oddball record - about two thirds inventive and playful, one third annoying as hell. If you're a Mutantes fan, this is well worth checking out.


Arnaldo Baptista "Faremos Uma Noitada Excelente" (Vinil Urbano, 1987)


Arnaldo Baptista "Elo Perdido" (Vinil Urbano, 1987)


Arnaldo Baptista "Disco Voador Arnaldo Paz" (Baratos Afins, 1987) (LP)
(Produced by Luiz Carlos Calanca)

This is, to be honest, a pretty depressing record. Crooning almost tunelessly over a muddily-mixed, cheap-sounding Casio keyboard, with electronic drum tracks programmed as minimally as possible, Baptista rambles on in both English and Portuguese about his mental illness, his isolation and disaffection from modern life and from his own emotions. I guess it's cool that these later recordings by a groundbreaking Brazilian rock artist were made, that they exist and document some of his experience. But I am reminded of similar recordings by other mentally ill artists such as Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston, which have a similar how-much-is-he-kidding-or-is-this-as-uncomfortable -as-it-seems? quality to them. Yes, I suppose there's validity in using art to explore madness and dysfunction, but for the most part it seems exploitative and voyeuristic. Also, this record is just plain monotonous, and a real downer.


Arnaldo Baptista "Let It Bed" (L&C, 2004)
An entertaining, whimsical "comeback" album by Os Mutantes songwriter Arnaldo Baptista, who has been in seclusion for many years, and -- they say -- wrestling with nervous breakdowns and mental illness. Baptista pokes fun at his own disabilities with a goofy cover of the old Woody Woodpecker song, "Everybody Thinks I'm Crazy," singing in a voice that is somwhat grey, weary and contented. He sounds like a man who has been ravaged and tortured by life, but still loves its ironic twists and surprises, and still finds the world to be a playful place. This is possibly Baptista's most personal and appealing album, as well as one of his most cohesive works of art. The music itself won't blow your mind -- the electronic blips and bloops and the orchestral touches are standard "lo-fi" kitchentable recording fare, but the lightness of heart that Baptista brings to it (and the absence of flashy, chaotic musical theatrics that made listening to the classic Mutantes albums a bit of a chore...) makes this album an oddball winner. The albums itself is short, barely a half an hour long, but the disc also contains some extras, including a photo gallery, an extensive Portuguese-language essay about Baptista and a complete discography, as well as low-budget videos for three of the songs off the album. This mini, self-contained website helps personalize the album... Overall, I'd say this is a release that Mutantes fans will definitely want to check out; I'm not sure how much appeal it would have for folks who don't already know a fair amount about the Baptista and the band...




Tributes

Various Artists "ONDE E QUE ESTA O MEU ROCK'N'ROLL? - ARNALDO BAPTISTA NOVAMENTE REVISITADO" (Dabliu, 1999)
This low-rent Brazilian rocknroll tribute to ex-Mutante Arnaldo Baptista has its charms and its iffy moments as well... The repertoire includes material from Baptista's Mutantes days, as well as a bunch of his solo stuff. The bands are also pretty diverse, ranging from actively painful Pat Travers-style rockers (Nata Violeta, Ligacio Direta) to space rockers, grindcorers, Green Day clones, and goth-ish indie types of varying ability. It's not, to be honest, the greatest album ever. But you could look at it as the Brazilian equivalent of one of those zillions of mid-1980s postpunk rock comps that came out during the days when they still called it "college" rock. Also, keep in mind that Baptista wasn't the world's most coherent composer, so anyone covering his raggedy-ass material has a tough act to follow. Some of these songs hit the mark, others don't -- but for the hardcore Mutantes fan, this could definitely be worth checking out.




Links

  • Here's an Arnaldo Baptista fan page (with a testimonial by Arnaldo Antunes!) The site includes a discography, biography, and some really cute old photos of Os Mutantes (In Portuguese).

  • The New York Times ran an excellent article on Os Mutantes in April, 2001... bascially an interview with Rita Lee, it also provides some good information about the band and fills in a few blanks hitherto unknown...

  • All Brazilian Music has good biographical sketch and discography of Arnaldo Baptista... A highly recommended website!




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