Consistency is an appealing trait in an album. Versatility is, of course, encouraged, but the best records have a common unifying thread linking one song to the next. Nudge too far in one direction, and your record is disjointed, schizophrenic; too far in the other and it’s staid and unexciting, and some jack-off music critic is tut-tutting your artistic vision.
Reformed Brazilian psych-rock band Os Mutantes’s new record, Fool Metal Jack, threatens to careen off the rails several times. Perhaps it’s during the schizoid title track, where the firing synapses of a soldier dying in battle — these musings overwrought and tuneless — build up to a garishly bouncing, strutting refrain, or when the band fuses their brand of Tropicalia to a psychedelic raga in order to extol the virtues of the chronic in “Ganja Man”; either way, this record, by equal turns infectious and peculiar, ping-pongs at breakneck speed from one style to the next. Beatles harmonies rise and fall; gently skanking reggae rhythms brush up against fleet-fingered flamenco trills; bossa nova and samba square their shoulders and prop up loads of fuzzed-out Hendrix guitar and LSD-addled Ray Manzarek keys.
It’s fitting, perhaps, at least from a personal standpoint; I first heard Os Mutantes on Soul Jazz’s excellent 2006 compilation Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound, two discs of mind-melting psych-world-soul-rock, each track putting on a veritable clinic in musical fusion, the art of pairing combustible elements and seeing what works. Os Mutantes aren’t the be-all-end-all of the Tropicalia movement, but they were my favorite; given that they’re known for a genre that celebrates such a flamboyant diversity of sound, it makes sense that any Os Mutantes record worth its salt would be something of a Pandora’s Box of ideas. Hell, hearing a legit Os Mutantes record in 2013 is, itself, a small miracle.
So Fool Metal Jack must be approached, of course, with an open mind; the title track is, uncharacteristically, a bit of a slog, but the remainder of the record is sprightly, tuneful, even transcendent in places. “To Make It Beautiful” is gently bossa nova at its core, but pure glory-days John-and-Paul in its tightly-harmonized, innovative, ascending melody; “Bangladesh”, meanwhile, is almost transparently George Harrison (tempered with a hearty dose of flower-power, mind you), but in a mischievous, winking sort of way. Throughout, there’s enough personality on display to smooth over the roughest of edges; as Os Mutantes and the movement that birthed them valued feel over perfection, this proves a boon when the band overdoses on pan flute or backwards guitar. The enterprise never sounds willfully obtuse; when what sounds like an operatic tenor (by way of drugs) wanders through a garden of flowery keyboard trills (by way of drugs) in “Once Upon A Flight”, we’re far enough in to understand that this sort of beautifully discordant, unabashedly silly flight of fancy is still Os Mutantes’s modus operandi, and it should be respected as such.
Given how much rust this highly influential band is shaking off, Fool Metal Jack sounds remarkably sprightly; if they’re not quite as consistent, as vital as they were in the late ’60s, they’re closer than any band their age has the right to be. A spry, schizophrenic minor gem.