While box set collections are commonplace, box set collections of complete discographies are reserved for a very few -- but then again, not everybody is Caetano Veloso. The venerated Brazilian composer is among those extraordinary artists who have amassed a body of work of both the highest cultural and historical importance as well as artistic merit. Furthermore, Veloso's work is distinguished by its restlessness and its trailblazing quality; he has been ridiculously prolific as well as tirelessly innovative, never staying in one place or repeating himself. Indeed, Veloso has always been pushing the envelope, and not necessarily forward but forward, backward, and sideways, and frequently in all of those directions at once: a true postmodernist avant la lettre in his tropicalist contamination of genres and cultural paradigms, he has been both a man of the future and a keeper and scholar of all Brazilian musical traditions. He has written every type of song conceivable, from standard love songs to historical epics, character studies, philosophical musings, carnival marches, protest songs, art manifestos, loving tributes to his favorite artists, autobiographical accounts, and tailor-made hits for other singers, and his dazzling poetry has run the whole gamut from haiku-like pieces to seven-minute odes. No two Caetano Veloso albums are alike and each often introduces a musical universe of its own. He is an album artist par excellence, which is why, in order to understand Veloso's music and its groundbreaking importance not only in Brazilian but world music at large, a box set of his complete discography makes a lot more sense than a regular box set (similarly, virtually any of his studio albums should be preferred to a standard compilation).
Fortunately, Veloso and his record company seem to think along these lines, as in 2002 they celebrated the 35th anniversary of Veloso's career with the release of a special box set containing his entire oeuvre plus several rarities. This was, however, a hardly affordable, extremely limited edition, so five years later for the 40th anniversary a more democratic option was devised. Veloso's discography, now extended until 2007, was repackaged into four different sets, each of ten albums plus a rarities disc -- billed as 10 (+1) in order to reach the magical number 40 -- to be released over the next four years, with the rarities discs also being made available separately. Considering the outrageous amount of material Veloso has recorded, either as a single artist or in collaboration, these boxes are amazingly comprehensive. Included are all of Veloso's official releases between 1965 and 2007, be they studio, live, or collaboration albums, augmented by priceless rarities discs that gather obscure singles, songs featured in tribute albums, or soundtracks of films and TV shows, as well as his own versions of hits he originally composed for the likes of Maria Bethânia and Gal Costa -- it is important to remember that for many years in Brazil he was more famous as a composer than as a solo artist, as his albums were deemed too unusual for mainstream audiences. Rather than listing these boxes' contents, it is in fact much easier to mention what is not here: his work as a film composer (although, as indicated above, vocal tracks from his soundtracks are included among the rarities); Brasil, the legendary 1981 collaboration with João Gilberto, Gilberto Gil, and Maria Bethãnia (understandably, as it is usually thought of as a João Gilberto solo album); three covers of other artists that have appeared on the 1993 compilation Caetano Canta, Vol. 1 (regrettably, among these is a masterful reading of Raul Seixas' "Ouro de Tolo"); the official 1978 live bootleg Bicho Baile Show (released for the first time with the 35th anniversary box); and of course, all of his post-2007 releases.
This second volume covers the years 1975 to 1982, from Qualquer Coisa to Cores, Nomes. While the first box set is arguably of higher historical importance, as it deals with the tropicalismo movement, no installment can match this one in terms of musical riches. A young provocateur no longer, by this time Veloso had not merely found his own voice but also matured into one of the world's finest songwriters of the 20th century. The experimental frenzy and uppity dilettantism that marred most of his early records are gone, replaced by a more assured hand and a keen sense of purpose, which allowed him to bridge the gap between angry young man and fulfilled happy person/artist and release a string of seemingly effortless, joyful masterpieces. From this point on, Veloso's records tend to be all of a piece, not exactly concept albums but sharing a similar mood, each giving off a particular vibe or showcasing an interest in a certain type of sounds, touching on various musical traditions to conjure a new one that sounds like nothing else on this planet. At the same time, his poetry reaches instances of transcendental, improbable beauty. As implausible as it sounds, some of his most gorgeous songs are about, for instance, the moon or the sun, topics that -- after centuries of abuse at the hands of bad poets -- most deemed impossible to write about without sounding schmaltzy or trite. Album track lists started to read like catalogs of timeless classics: "Qualquer Coisa," "Lua, Lua, Lua, Lua," "A Filha da Chiquita Bacana," "Chuva, Suor e Cerveja," "Tigresa," "O Leaozinho," "Odara," "Terra," "Sampa," "Lua de São Jorge," "Menino do Rio," "Beleza Pura," "Cajuína,""Gema," "Queixa," "Trem Das Cores," and "Um Canto de Afoxé Para o Bloco do Ilê" all belong in this period -- and this list does not even feature Veloso's peerless versions of songs by Vinícius de Moraes, Jorge Mautner, Jorge Ben, Dorival Caymmi, and Vinícius Cantuária, among many others, or the huge hits he wrote for Maria Bethânia or Gal Costa, such as "Mel," "Dom de Iludir," "Força Estranha," "Massa Real," and "Diamante Verdadero," all of which rank among Veloso's most famous compositions in Brazil even if he never bothered to include those in his own studio albums. He did not need to, as these were already magnificent.
Released simultaneously in 1975, Qualquer Coisa offers tantalizing readings of artists such as Chico Buarque, Jorge Ben, Chabuca Granda, and the Beatles, while Jóia is the most minimalist of all of Veloso's records, with several tracks consisting of just voice and percussion. A miracle of an album that hints at Brazilian aborigine music, Jóia is the quietest, strangest wonder of his entire discography. Bicho is just as marvelous but much more accessible, as Veloso turns to the ebullience of African music, following the lead of his lifelong best friend, Gilberto Gil. Next he recorded several songs he had written over the years for Bahia's Carnival for Muitos Carnavais, a minor work perhaps, but easily his most fun. Subsequently, Veloso put together a quasi-amateur band called A Outra Banda da Terra (featuring a young Vinícius Cantuária), with whom he made some of his most beloved records. Muito (Dentro da Estrela Azulada) and Cinema Transcendental (perhaps his definitive masterpiece) are utterly delightful works characterized by an impossibly laid-back feel, while Outras Palavras begins a delicate transition into the stately elegance of Cores, Nomes. This box set is completed by two live albums, the hippie love-in of Doçes Bárbaros with Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and Maria Bethânia, and the sister-and-brother café concert reunion Maria Bethânia & Caetano Veloso, and capped by a second volume of priceless rarities, Pipoca Moderna. Essential listening from this volume: Jóia, Bicho, Muito, and Cinema Transcendental are all otherworldly, but in truth every studio album present in this box is as beautiful as music gets.