Ghetto Fabulous

And yes, clearly Tom Zé is goofing on the very idea of genre here. But that's not all he's doing. This is in one sense as compulsively idiosyncratic a record as he's ever made. He's got more money than ever to play around with the quirky homemade instruments he's been concocting since the '70s—the businorio, or car-horn organ, which threads a plaintive honking through the pro-Hendrix, anti-imperialist maracapoeira "Jimi Renda-se/Moeda Falsa"; the enceroscópio, made of floor waxers, which lends its teeth-rattling burr to the otherwise pacific lilt of "Desafio"; the hertZé, a sampler Tom Zé claims to have independently invented in 1978, which here dizzyingly slices, dices, and whipsaws a snatch of playground laughter in and out of the cool, furious undergroove of "O PIB da PIB (Prostituir)," a howl at Brazil's rampant child-prostitution industry. Additionally he has included a companion CD containing the raw, unmixed tracks that compose the songs on the mother disc, the stated intent being that a thousand home-remixed versions bloom, but the impression being that Tom Zé added the thing at the last minute just in case the record wasn't quite odd enough to distinguish it from Celine Dion's latest.

All the same, we've heard this record before. Put Jogos de Amar on shuffle with just about any other Tom Zé CD (except maybe the over-Byrne-ished Fabrication Defect) and you'll be hard-pressed to know where one begins and the other ends. Certain trademark features recur with tic-like persistence: the clockwork riffing of the mandolin, the ominous low fuzzy guitar figure stomping around beneath it, the female chorus playing call and response with Tom Zé's hangdog but doggedly tuneful voice. The effect isn't samey, though, nor does the cause seem to be creative exhaustion. On the contrary, it's as if the man's inspiration derived entirely from the obsessive project of defining a genre all his own, its conventions partly borrowed from the hegemonic samba über-genre but wholly transformed into the boundaries of a genre he can share with no one. Post-rockers take note: It's a lonely job. Nor is it necessarily the case that someone has to do it. But if you think you've got the stomach to follow in Tom Zé's footsteps, knock yourself out. We could use more music as unlikely as his, and he could use the company.

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