For dozens of years, the Tropicália and post-Tropicália movement–a fusion of the delicate rhythms of samba dirtied up with American rhythm and blues–have found their way into musical styles from all over the world. In Red Hot + Rio 2, artists ranging from Eugene Hutz to Beck, Beirut to Bebel Gilberto to John Legend offer their takes on Brazilian music–with aggressively mixed results.
For an album commissioned by the Red Hot Foundation–which puts out benefit concerts and albums to raise money for AIDS research, Red Hot + Rio 2 has no mention of AIDS, how to avoid AIDS, how to inform others about the spread of AIDS, etc. However, this slight discrepancy seems to bother no one, and as an album, Red Hot + Rio 2 is a sprawling, chaotic, obtusely inspired, and occasionally brilliant Technicolor paean to all the past, present and future musical traditions of Brazil–that is, anything anyone has ever made ever.
This may seem disorganized and daunting, and it is. Often the original songs feel twisted and warped beyond any recognition, like Silly Putty melted into a car seat. Cool-looking pop trio Tha Boogie is this phenomenon’s most egregious perpetrator, as they turned “Panis et Circenses,” the easily (and hilariously) misread name of the classic Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil song, emblematic of the Tropicália movement, into a disgraceful generic alt-rock song that could be written by Panic! At the Disco. There is also no central curator or editor, an absence painfully felt when, as the first song of the record, Stones Throw soulman Aloe Blacc and jazz singer Alice Smith offer a lovely version of the Gil tune “Baby,” and then inexplicably included it again eight songs later–but as a dub song, and without the final two minutes.
The lack of consistency means also that Red Hot + Rio has some great tunes. The aforementioned first “Baby” is a great take on the Gil track, as Smith’s voice slips among the instrumentation, subtly putting her stamp on this classic. “Aquele Abraço” receives a modern makeover from Forró in the Dark, with help from the stoner samba-rock collective Brazilian Girls and Beninoise diva Angelique Kidjo. Eschewing the traditional laid-back bossa nova vibe, the trifecta opts for an agit-funk groove which reaches a head with a duet between piano player Jorge Continento and Kidjo. Midway through the second disc, Brazilian chanteuse Marina Gasolina and house DJ Secousse turn in a deliciously chilly cover of the standard “Freak Le Boom Boom,” as Marina’s lascivious symphony of notes, moans and cries of “Me gusta!” provide a perfect counterpoint to the filtered and clipped synths, conjuring images of robots on bearskin rugs engaged in heavy petting.
The best song on Red Hot + Rio 2 comes from two veritable graybeards on this album: Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and Tropicália legend Caetano Veloso. Their track “Dreamworld: Marco des Canavases” features a beautiful samba melody uncharacteristically buttressed by a baile funk drum machine and gentle theremin squeals for a perfect blend of passion and cool. Closing the first disc, “Dreamworld” truly shows how versatile the genre is, and how two masters, singing in Portuguese and English, can update Tropicália without losing any of its essence. It hits its mark perfectly and while the rest of Red Hot + Rio 2 is nowhere near this tight, the album is for a good cause that also is a good showcase of the versatility and power Tropicália and samba soul behold.