Os Mutantes: “Haih”

The reunion of Os Mutantes – minus Rita Lee, of course – a couple of years ago was one of the more unexpected in recent years, not least because, as legend has it, Arnaldo Baptista hasn’t been in the best of psychic health since the band originally split in the mid-‘70s.

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The reunion of Os Mutantes – minus Rita Lee, of course – a couple of years ago was one of the more unexpected in recent years, not least because, as legend has it, Arnaldo Baptista hasn’t been in the best of psychic health since the band originally split in the mid-‘70s.



It’s even more of a surprise to discover a brand new album from the band, “Haih” – though calling it an Os Mutantes album might be a bit of a stretch, since only Sergio Dias Baptista now survives from the original trio (Dinho Leme, the band’s ‘70s era drummer, also provides a link with the past).

Nevertheless, Sergio Dias has made a tremendous fist of recreating his band’s chaotic early sound. Unlike some of his fellow Tropicalistas, notably Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso (whose last album, “Zii e Zie”, was rather good, incidentally), Dias hasn’t tried too obviously to modernise Mutantes’ unique Brazilian take on psychedelia – and he hasn’t been tempted into using the talents of American fans like Devendra Banhart, who figured in some of the Mutantes reunion shows.

Instead, Dias’ main collaborator on “Haih” is Tom Zé, the Tropicalia veteran whose taste for cultural cannibalism and haphazard collages was arguably stronger than any of his subversive contemporaries. Zé’s own various comebacks (often facilitated by David Byrne and Luaka Bop) have often embraced electronica, remixes and post-rock (the last time I saw him, his backing band was Tortoise).

Zé also has a taste for clanking metallic percussion, and you can hear some of it knitted into the first track proper of “Haih”, “Querida Querida”. Much more noticeable, though, are the intricate horn and string arrangements (an evident homage to Mutantes’ original arranger, Rogerio Duprat) and Dias’ familiarly snaking fuzz guitar breaks. It’s a fantastic, and hugely reassuring opener, a looming and ornate anthem in the vein of “Panis Et Circenses” or “Algo Mais”.

The fidelity to Mutantes’ first two albums is striking and satisfying; that smash-and-grab raid on both Anglo/American and Brazilian musical traditions, the vigorous satire that’s evident even to a non-Portugeuse speaker (check the jarring mention of Saddam Hussein in “Bagdad Blues”, or the self-explanatory “Samba Do Fidel”, which seems to examine relations between Brazil, Cuba and Argentina and includes the English refrain, “We would love you forever, little sister chikita banana”).

All this playfulness, of course, cannot be entirely ascribed to Dias, and it’s clear the inquisitive quirkiness of Zé had a critical part to play on the album. But some songs like “Neurociencia De Amor” and especially “Nada Mou” seem like perfect fusions of Zé and the Authentic Mutantes sound. There are other nods to Tropicalia, too: a vague North African lilt to “Teclar” which recalls Gal Costa’s “Touareg”; and a Jorge Ben song, “O Careca”, which summons up the frantic grooviness of his own “Africa Brasil”.

At times, the thought occurs that some of “Haih” might be almost a pastiche of a pastiche, but it’s generally far too exuberant and tuneful to be dismissed so sceptically. Dias plays wonderfully throughout, and even allowing for Mutantes’ traditional eccentricities, they’re still capable of a curveball: “O Mensageiro”, written by Dias on his own, is fulsome jangle pop that reminds me unaccountably of The La’s and “There She Goes”.

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