Arnaldo Baptista – Loki? (1974)

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1 Será que eu vou virar bolor?
2 Uma pessoa só (Mutantes)
3 Não estou nem aí
4 Vou me afundar na lingerie
5 Honky tonky (Patrulha do Espaço)
6 Cê tá pensando que eu sou loki?
7 Desculpe
8 Navegar de novo
9 Te amo podes crer
10 É fácil

All songs by Arnaldo Baptista except “Uma pessoa só” by Mutantes.

Recording in 16-tracks at Eldorado Studio (SP)
Produced by: Menescal/Mazola
Audio technician: Marcus Vinicius
Album cover by Aldo Luis, photo by Leila

Featuring: Dinho, Liminha, Rogério Duprat, Rita Lee, Rafa, and Arnaldo Baptista

The world of popular music is full of mythic figures whose eccentric reputations unfairly obscure and overshadow their actual contributions. Arnaldo Baptista is one such figure. In my younger days when I had just discovered them and was gripped by Os Mutantes “fever” (Mutant Mania?), I sought out this record with high expectations, knowing only that it was Arnaldo’s “nervous breakdown album” after which he took a long, um, “rest” and a break from the public eye. I admit I was slightly put off by the fugly album jacket design but I kept hope alive.

I brought it home full of eagerness, put it on the stereo expecting “The Madcap Laughs” and instead I got “The Madman Across the Water.” This is not a slam or a dis, as I will defend early Elton John and challenge anyone who wants to argue about it to a duel. Not a duel to the death with pistols or sabres, mind you, but maybe with a fencing foil. But still, Sir Elton doesn’t even rank in the realm of ‘loony’ tortured souls. So I was rather shocked to find myself listening to a subdued album of piano-driven rock music (hell, there isn’t any guitar on the whole record until the very end), rather than the Brazilian equivalent of “Oar,” “Easter Everywhere” or the aforementioned “Madcap.” What “Loki?” offers us is a piece of reflective pop music, a fragmented narrative of a life in the midst of post-psychedelic fragmentation of identity and doubt, of struggling with the ambiguities of celebrity and modernity, a “concept album” whose concept continually eludes the listener. For sure, the album is peppered with oddball, beguiling lyrics in praise of fruits and vegetables (“xuxu beleza, tomate maravilha”), lingerie, or an unexplained aversion to Alice Cooper, and his vocal delivery occasionally bursts into an odd Screamin’ Jay Hawkins warble, but for the most part Baptista’s stream-of-consciousness tales bring us a mix of the quotidian and the transcendent moments that made up a life lived to the limits of mental, spiritual, and physical exhaustion. For my money Baptista was the driving force behind Mutantes — I have never been terribly impressed with Rita Lee’s solo work, even the first two albums that Baptista produced. For me, those records are listenable largely by way of Arnaldo’s involvement; In fact her record “Hoje é o primeiro dia do resto da sua vida” is sort of a counterpart to this one.

But “Loki?” is far more tranquil and pensive; it’s occasional prog-rock flourishes never become cloying or annoying. Some of the songs flow one into the other in true rock-opera fashion. Mileage may vary, however, for the non-Portuguese speaker, as the music here is very much driven by the lyrics. Some of the tunes are self-referential to themselves; in other words, conjuring phrases and images already dealt with in other places on the album. I particular love his occasional use of an English lyric thrown in seemingly at random that matches perfectly the rest of what is going on musically and discursively. There are metaphysical musings – We are all one and the same person, I am the Alpha and Omega, and so on. “Uma Pessoa Só” is graced by the lush arrangements of Rogério Duprat, cradling Baptista’s explorations into the inner cosmos. And then there are moments of raw, confessional tenderness and intimacy — “Desculpe” and “Te amo podes crer” are both too plaintive and profound, too human and eternal, to suffer any hackneyed translations at my hands. My favorite song in the whole bunch is “Navegar de novo” which mixes reminiscence of going to the cinema with his girl, lamenting that the car he bought six months ago is already out of fashion, the tough impersonality of São Paulo; with musings about humanity, the speed of light, the conquest of space, of Brazil as being still a child, and, um, urban planning (I think..) Rita Lee sings backup on “Não estou nem aí.” The album ends with two minutes of an open-tuning 12-string solo guitar piece whose only lyrics, “I love myself like I love you. It’s easy. It’s easy,” his hushed voice mixed into the left channel as if he is whispering in your ear, before he ends the tune banging out guitar chords that rock out more than anything else on the record, giving way to a heavily-flanged fade out. The end. Like one of his more obvious anglophone parallels, one Roger Barrett, the album leaves me with the persistent feeling that there was (is) much more to the man than the “loony” tales and stories, the idiosyncratic behavior, the health problems. Don’t let the legend and the myth distract you from what this album is – a beautiful swan-song.

Additional info contributed by blog friend CK:

I love this album, which I bought back in the days of vinyl records. I’d
like to comment on the so-called Rita albums produced by Arnaldo. The
story that I’ve heard is that her first album, Build Up, was not
originally Rita Lees idea. Os Mutantes went into a forced recess due to
her husband Arnaldo deciding on an adventurous vacation with a friend
traveling by motorcycle from São Paulo to New York. Hitting into some
difficulties along the way (I think he made it to Panama), Arnaldo gave
up on the idea and returned to São Paulo to find Rita midway into an
album. So it was agreed that he can produce some of the remaining
recordings. So yes, he did have a hand in it, but its not like he was
the mastermind behind the helm of the whole thing.

Regarding her
so called second album, ‘Hoje É O Primeiro Dia Do Resto Da Sua Vida’,
the story of this album is quite well known. Mutantes informed their
record company that they have enough material for, and intend to,
release a double album. The record company explained that Mutantes did
not sell enough to warrant a double album. The compromise was to have
the second album out as a Rita Lee album, because she was always the
bands main pull or main attraction in minds of the populous. Arnaldo was
the musical genius, Sergio the guitar wiz kid, but it was Rita’s charm
and charisma that made Mutantes television friendly. So, this is really a
Rita’s album at all although it is officially credited to her.

Regarding
Loki the album, one of the important things to know about the album is
that it was recorded after Rita and Arnaldo split up. Almost all the
songs are directed to Rita in one way or another. Será Que Eu Vou Virar
Bolar questions his musical future without her (venho me apegando ao
passado e em ter você ao meu lado // trans.: I’ve been getting attached
to the past and with you by my side). Uma Pessoa Só is a rerecording of a
Mutantes composition form their 1973 album O A E O Z (The A And The Z),
that was shelved until the nineties. In Não Estou Nem Aí he shows
himself unwilling to deal with the pressures in his life; rather get
high every morning (Não estou nem aí pra morte, nem aí pra sorte/ Eu
quero mais é decolar toda manhã). Rita Lee and Lucy Turnbull, who at
that time were working as a duo called ‘Cilibrina do Eden’, sing
background vocals on this and the following Vou Me Afundar Na Lingerie.
Arnaldo jokingly tuants them (or maybe it’s a shout-out?) on Cê Tá
Pensando Que Eu Sou Loki? (Cilibrina pra cá / Cilibrina pra lá / Eu sou
velho mas gosto de viajar). Descuple is an obvious open letter to Rita
Lee that warranted her to write and record her answer Agora Só Falta
Você on her 1975 album Fruito Proibido. Certainly not the answer Arnaldo
was hoping for. Desculpe is heart breaking in it’s vocal
interpretation, and has Limninha and Dinho giving us pure Mutantes power
in its execution, with only brother Sergio absent. Te Amo Podes Crer
follows Navegar de Novo, both stream of conscience type lyrics, and
follows the pattern of woes for the person identified as ‘you’ that left
and doesn’t want to return. Its a sad record thematically, but
beautiful in it’s playing. The Last song É Facil, Arnaldo amazes me as
how good a guitar player he really is, although he hardly plays the
instrument, up to that point in his carrer.

NOTE #1: There is noticeable noise / digital drop-outs beginning at the 1 minute and 20 second mark on the track “Uma pessoa só”. You may only notice them if you use headphones or a accurate speakers for playback. I compared two different CD copies of this first pressing, and the noise is in the exact same place. Quite likely damaged master tapes. I recently came across a new remaster of this album released on by the Universal group. I have not heard it and am not too inspired to pick it up, since the first pressings on Philips typically sound better than the newer remasters.

NOTE #2: There is a documentary about Arnaldo Baptista also called “Loki.” To my chagrin and consternation I still have not managed to see it. I am sure it has some lovely anecdotes about this album. Hopefully nothing that will make my commentaries look silly (or sillier..).

 

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