Caetano Veloso

Quarenta Anos Caetanos, Vol. 4: 1995-2007

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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.

Having said that, this fourth and final installment of Caetano Veloso's complete discography is probably the least interesting one due to the fact that it only includes three solo studio albums of original material. A Brazilian and world music legend at this point, Veloso's prestige demanded an international tour and a live companion piece for every new album. Furthermore, since he could now afford to do whatever he wanted, he began to devote more and more time to alternative projects such as soundtracks and tributes. As a result, this box features as many as five live albums, the all-covers record in English A Foreign Sound (less inspired than its Spanish predecessor, Fina Estampa), and a playful collaboration with his longtime friend Jorge Mautner, Eu Não Peço Desculpa. As for the three proper studio albums, the ambitious Livro (1997) is one of his most sumptuous works and his last indisputable masterpiece, Noites do Norte (2000) is a fine transition effort, and finally (2006) marks the beginning of Veloso's latest and somewhat divisive phase, further continued in Zii e Zie and Abraçaço, both post-2007 and therefore not included in this compilation. The jury is still out about Veloso's unforeseen turn to distortion at age 64, but it seems likely that these Spartan records made with an electric trio of young noise rock musicians will prove more admirable than endearing. The live albums are all excellent, as they typically feature intriguing rearrangements of old and new songs as well as plenty of choice covers -- Peninha's "Sozinho," included in Prenda Minha, for instance, became Veloso's biggest hit in Brazil of the last 15 years -- but remain complementary rather than indispensable. No instrumental music from his soundtrack work is featured, but the main songs crop up on the rarities disc Que De-Lindo, among these the fabulous "A Luz de Tieta" from Tieta do Agreste and "Merica, Merica" from O Quatrilho. Essential picks from this set: Livro, Prenda Minha.