Growing Old Disgracefully

The genial lie that most self-appointed cultural historians would love you to swallow is that young, “hungry” artists make vibrant art but, as time goes on, they become mellow, gentrified parodies of their former selves. While I won’t dispute this on the whole, I do think that the overall picture is a bit more complicated. Notwithstanding what the ravages of time can do to ones’ very vocal chords, some of our greatest singer-songwriters (though I loathe that term) manage to wrangle some of their greatest work while in the latter portion of their careers - I’m thinking Waits, Cohen (up until his recent Sharon Robinson-curated downturn), Prince, etc. All have had “comebacks” ranging from moderate to formidable, all suggest the distinct possibility that the most interesting things they have to say may be, as yet, unspoken.

For years Caetano Veloso, he of the unassailable early cred as pioneering Brasilian composer and interpreter, has been drifting slowly but surely in the direction of mediocre balladry. Recent albums for Elektra Nonesuch have borne witness to a lush, orchestrated, inarguably gorgeous direction that lacked any of the grit and vibrancy of his early work. Veloso’s last record, the “tribute to American songwriters” A Foreign Sound cast him in a ghastly Rod Stewart-esque mould - sure, he covered “Come As You Are,” but the results were more Paul Anka than anything else. Stacked up against the usual suspects from the Great American SongbookTM and all yer Tropicalia begins to look like so much flash in the pan.

So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I turned to Ce, Veloso’s outright tribute to my old archnemesis Bob Dylan. Fortunately, it’s also his “rock” record - though there’s a great deal more “roll” here than anything else.

Son Moreno may be partly to blame for injecting the proceedings with a youthful energy, but I refuse to believe that this isn’t a Caetano show first and foremost. His singing, for one, hasn’t been this effortlessly edgy in years - listen to “Rocks,” which, umm… rocks. Elsewhere, the familiar smoothie of recent efforts is still in evidence - “Nao Me Arrependo,” which opens with the same three notes as “Walk on the Wild Side,” is more of a stroll, and trannies are conspicuous only in their absence. But there’s also a yearning here, a jazz-derived opening of the throat that Veloso’s avoided since his days on Verve.

The rest will have to wait upon a future, actual review of this record, as I’ve just received word that such a thing is pending… for now - let us revel in the fact that it’s never too late to learn some new tricks… well, maybe it is. But you can always relearn some old ones. And in the end, that’s more than enough to ask of those who have given so much of themselves to be cultural institutions rather than mere artists.

Here’s to being old as fuck! (Clink)

(Cross posted with Funky Funky 7.)

October 12, 2006. Uncategorized. No Comments.

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