After over three decades of building a body of work that stands as one of the most mesmerizing and groundbreaking in any musical language of the past 50 years, Caetano Veloso seems to have hit a hitherto unimaginable creative slump in the early 21st century. His controversial 2006 album, Cê, was a deliberate attempt on Veloso's part to rejuvenate himself with a full immersion in electronic noise. Regardless of its largely disappointing results, it is clear that Veloso conceived the album as a new turning point, and that its 2009 successor, Zii e Zie, was intended as a logical continuation, both in the sound and in the central role of sex in many of his lyrics. Essential to Veloso's new minimalist approach is the reduction to a four-piece electric band, consisting of guitarist Pedro Sá, bassist Ricardo Dias Gomes, and drummer Marcelo Callado, plus Veloso on vocals and guitars. The three musicians that form BandaCê, as the band was put together for the Cê tour, all belong to a much younger generation than Veloso's, and come from the Brazilian rock scene, rather than MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira). The music of Zii e Zie was developed with the band -- demos and ideas were also posted online on Veloso's official site as "work in progress," for colleagues, friends, and fans to discuss and make suggestions. In fact, the entire creative process behind this album is dissected by Veloso on his site in a way that is unprecedented for any of his records. Allegedly, the main concept was the creation of "transambas": transforming the spirit of samba through an ascetic, acerbic, and electric sound, better fitted for the harsh urban realities of a Brazil trying to balance a soaring economy with ever-increasing social inequality and violence. This Veloso set to accomplish with a remake of two classic sambas by Serafim Adriano, as well as in a series of compositions dealing with the city of Rio de Janeiro. Most of all, he accomplishes this in the elemental rhythmic motif that opens the album, and in fact dominates throughout via a samba pattern laid out obsessively by an electric guitar. The results are primitive but hypnotic; certainly Zii e Zie cannot be faulted for lack of consistency. Still, while most of the debate over Veloso's new music inevitably centers around his rediscovery of electronic sounds, it should not cloud the main issue: it is not the sound, but the songs that are lacking here. Veloso has always been first and foremost an exceptional songwriter. This has allowed him to experiment in any direction he chooses and, improbably, make it all work -- simply because a great song always waited at the bottom of it all. Unfortunately, this no longer seems to be the case. While Zii e Zie is an utterly compelling listen, one that has to be regarded as a definitive improvement upon Cê, yet there are really few individual songs here that match Veloso's (granted, insanely high) standards. This becomes particularly evident in tracks that reference earlier songs, such as "Guantanamo" and "Menina da Ria." Even if the latter is actually one of the album's most beautiful moments, these songs still pale in comparison to the masterpieces they are ostensibly revisiting (1994's "Haiti" and 1979's "Menino do Rio," respectively). Time will tell what place this electric phase will ultimately take in Caetano Veloso's long and fabulous discography. Zii e Zie certainly deserves to be heard, even if only because it would be most unwise to pass judgment too quickly on such a proven visionary.
AllMusic Review by Mariano Prunes