On Second Thought
Rita Lee & Os Mutantes - Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida

for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

Even though plenty has been written about Brazil’s musically and socially revolutionary Tropicalia movement of the late 60s, particularly in the last two years, it’s still a period and a music that isn’t widely enough appreciated given both its seemingly boundless creativity and massive cultural impact. To all intents and purposes, Tropicalia actually did inspire the kind of significant revolution and change that our canonized, moneyed English and American rock ‘n’ roll heroes talked about but failed to follow-through on; while John Lennon was sitting in bed moaning, Caetano Veloso was being extradited and Rita Lee was being held under house arrest. The scene’s luminaries didn’t grow into bloated, middle-aged mansion-house excess; Gilberto Gil survived disgusting treatment at the hands of the authorities to go on and become Brazil’s Culture Minister, genuinely affecting social change and enlightenment in a way Keith Richards wouldn’t understand.

If you’ve been bitten by any of the Tropicalia compilations (most likely Soul Jazz’s excellent primer from last year) then the likelihood is that you’ve delved a little further and picked up the eponymous 1968 albums by Veloso and Gil, and probably some of the early Os Mutantes records too. You may even have tried tracking down some super-rare Gal Costa, got hold of Jorge Ben’s terrific (but considerably post-Tropicalia) Africa Brasil, or investigated Som Imaginaro’s garage-psych. Maybe you’ve even moved forward to the early 80s and started digging Rio’s rich postpunk scene with artists like As Mercenarias, Patife, and Akira S Et As Garotas Que Erraram (compiled excellently on another Soul Jazz compilation, The Sexual Life of the Savages). Whatever, you’ll have surely realized that Música Popular Brasileira is a huge and rewarding melting pot of styles and personalities with a mind-boggling array of treasures to choose from.

What you may or may not have heard of is Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida by Os Mutantes’ Rita Lee.

After making five crazed, psychedelic, and genre-hopping albums together since 1968, Os Mutantes were ready to split up in 1972, and that year’s E Seus Cometas No Pais Do Baurets was officially their last album with the three key original members (brothers Arnaldo Baptista and Sergio Dias, plus Rita Lee—Arnaldo continued recording under the name Os Mutantes after 1972). Two years previously, Rita Lee, presumably somewhat tired of the near-constant insanity that being in Os Mutantes entailed, had released Build Up, a slightly more restrained solo album. Still featuring Arnaldo (and also Liminha) from Mutantes, it wasn’t an entirely separate venture, but it did break away from the group’s overridingly mad sensibilities, and kick-started Rita Lee’s long and successful solo career in Brazil.

In reality E Seus Cometas No Pais Do Baurets was only Mutantes penultimate album though; while Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida (translated as “today is the first day of the rest of your life”) was billed as Lee’s second solo album, it was produced, played on, and largely written by Baptista and Dias immediately after finishing E Seus Cometas No Pais Do Baurets, making it Os Mutantes’ final album in all but name.

Indeed, from the moment “Vamos Tratar Da Saúde” kicks in with a flurry of spiralling guitar and rumbling, forward-in-the-mix bass (producer & former bassist Baptista was never shy in emphasising the low-end), Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida is clearly a markedly different beast from Build Up. The next sixty seconds confirms this, as the band throws more ideas and tune into the song’s introduction than many artists manage in an entire career. By the time the soaring chorus is reached, we’ve been dazzled by more lightshow-brilliant guitar licks, groovy bass runs, catchy melodies, and excitable drum fills than one can comprehend without actually listening to it.

The following track, “Beija-Me Amor,” sounds more like one might have expected from a Rita Lee solo album. A dramatic, throaty, slowly swelling ballad that showcases Lee’s instinct to diva-ish cabaret, the course of the song actually ends up revealing the truth at the heart of the album; as Arnaldo and Sergio’s chanting voices, guitars, and organs gradually build up around and eventually subsume Rita Lee’s performance, the fact that this is an Os Mutantes and not a Rita Lee record is made abundantly clear.

If that show of strength by Arnaldo and Sergio over Rita didn’t make it obvious enough, the schizo sequencing, nutty arrangements, and OTT genre piss-takes that make up much of the rest of Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida seal the deal. “Teimosa” is a brief samba / bossa nova breakdown laden with histrionic call & response vocals; it’s not a million miles away from the corrupted, cartoon Baile Funk of Bonde Do Role, despite preceding it by thirty-five years. “Tiroleite,” probably the most lightweight and throwaway track on the album, best expresses the madness at the heart of Os Mutantes by stitching together a bluesy organ riff, male vocal, and more slashes of enormous bass with an utterly bizarre passage of yodelling and drunk-sounding caterwauls, but remains compelling due to perhaps the most outright catchy melody and chorus on the record.

In fact, just like on Os Mutantes’ fantastic first three albums, the group seem determined to showcase their talents by slamming together as many lunatic ideas as they can in the shortest possible timeframe, mashing up genres, sending songs down unforeseen diversions, and having as much extreme musical fun as possible. Combining beauty with frazzled madness is the name of the game, and so “Amor Branco E Preto” juxtaposes delicately lovely piano runs and a gorgeous Rita Lee vocal melody with something akin to a Theremin, and bizarre keyboard noise that sounds like one of the characters from Animal Crossing getting high with Englebert Humperdink. “Tapupukitipa” showcases yet more drama-queen vocals from Rita Lee, plus some Tarzan-like ululations and wickedly portentous organ & guitar riffs from the brothers, before Lee falls into some strange scatted gibberish that threatens to pull the song apart at the seams before the riff comes back and rescues it, for a while, until distant saxophone and oddly inflated talking win out at the end.

Although Arnalpho “Liminha” Lima’s bass is the obvious sonic calling-card of Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida, Sergio Dias’ guitar playing throughout the record imitates, equals, and often surpasses the likes of Zappa, Love, and the Beatles, obvious counterpoints and influences, the overdriven fuzz of the first couple of Os Mutantes records reined-in to a blissfully precise needlework of fills, riffs, and solos that’s every bit as psychedelic and fun without being as abrasive. In fact the whole band sounds terrific, four years more mature than their debut but no less vivacious, Arnaldo Baptista’s piano, organ, and synthesizer work betraying his childhood classical training on piano, and Ronaldo “Dinho” Leme’s drums managing to encompass freaky rock, swinging jazz, and a dozen tones and styles between.

And then there is Rita Lee’s voice, part seductive chanteuse, part throaty blues veteran, part strung-out rockchick; it may not quite be her own album, but she is still more often than not the star, and that she manages not only to keep up with but often to outshine the bewildering genius of Baptista and Dias is a remarkable feat.

Let’s go back to the songs again. Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida’s title track begins with 45 seconds of odd, incidental noise and microscopic almost-music, barely audible, before the bass kicks in once again, organ and guitar painting terrific little riffs in the sky above the rumbling. Some fantastic guitar wails from Sergio complement Rita’s beguiling Portuguese enunciation, the song collapsing briefly into ambience before the bass alerts the main riff to start up again, and after another run through of the forthright chorus we’re flung back into chiming ambience once more. “Frique Comigo” has yet more propulsive bass and amazing guitar, plus sparkling percussion and briefly spooky, minimalist piano interludes

Probably the best song on the album is the penultimate number, the triumphantly cyclical “De Novo Aqui Meu Bom José.” There’s something beatific and redemptive about the monstrous riff run through the song’s center; listening to it inspires feelings of returning home after a long time away and being greeted by everyone you ever loved on your arrival, racketing, cantering, flailing drums and fluttering, circling guitars pushing Rita Lee’s largely wordless vocal carnival upwards and upwards. It’s a little over three minutes long but feels like an epic, and could easily last twice or thrice its length without losing momentum or heart.

The album closes with “Superf Cie Do Planeta,” wherein dramatic cymbal crashes and overwrought vocals from Arnaldo and Sergio are suddenly blasted apart by an amazing, indulgent spacerock bass solo, the whole band striking up and freaking out before dissolving into beautiful nothing. Like much of the rest of Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida it is disjointed, jarring, confused, and pig-headed, and also like much of the rest of Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida it still manages to be both compelling and enjoyable, despite and because of its inherent silliness.

Os Mutantes are so confident of their abilities that they’re audacious, even arrogant, but there’s a dark sideline to this record. Brazil in 1972 was a tumultuous political climate; Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso were in exile, Tropicalia was in the midst of a drug hangover and internal relations in the band were strained. The lyrical content of the album, if you can translate from Portuguese, is understandably far less optimistic than the rambunctious tone might suggest. In fact much of it is unashamedly political; “Tapupukitipa” is a literal “fuck you” to the government’s repressive censorship laws, Rita Lee’s seemingly nonsense scatting actually a direct and driven protest.

The band’s furious juxtaposition of traditional Brazilian music and Western styles was perhaps tinged with bitterness here too; in 1970 Os Mutantes had recorded Tecnicolor, an album of English-language versions of their own material, in an attempt to garner themselves exposure outside of Brazil, but it failed to find release until the twenty-first century, denying them a profile in the rest of the world while they were at the peak of their powers. Gilberto Gil may now be culture minister, and London may have hosted a mini Tropicalia festival at the Barbican last summer, but recognition and respect were scant at the time.

Nevertheless, this is still a superlative, fantastic album; thirty-five perfect minutes of frazzled, freaky psychedelic rock and pop from one of the most talented bands the world has ever seen. Last year’s re-release in the UK by Rev-Ola is also one of the most brilliantly remastered CDs you’d ever wish to hear. Polydor’s own Brazilian re-releases of the first five Os Mutantes records reveal the band’s often headstrong early attitude in the studio, bullying engineers into doing things with guitar levels and mixing that savaged the absolute fidelity of the first two records especially, but Rev-Ola’s Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida is sparkling, warm, punchy, dynamic and crystal clear. It needs to be; the band’s energetic arrangements see guitars, vocals, drums, and organs augmented with tape loops, piano, music concrete, and their own home-made wah-wah and effects units, all brought together across rock, pop, funk, jazz, samba, lounge, psych, and bossa nova. Remarkably, in the midst of all these instruments, styles and ideas, Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida manages to be more cohesive than any other single Os Mutantes record. It’s a staggering achievement, and one of the very best records I’ve ever heard.

By: Nick Southall
Published on: 2007-09-13
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