Review Summary: A tragic milestone of Brazilian rock music.
In the night of March 2, 1996, a thick smoke column emerged from Serra da Cantareira, a mountain range in the city of Sao Paulo. At first glance, some may have thought it was an accidental fire, but there laid the remains of a tragedy that wrought commotion throughout Brazil. The smoke came from a wrecked private jet, and the nationwide mourning happened because in that flight were Dinho, Bento Hinoto, Júlio Rasec and brothers Samuel and Sérgio Reoli. They were (respectively) the vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist and drummer of the band Mamonas Assassinas, arguably the biggest phenomenon in the history of Brazilian rock music. They were all between 22 and 28 years old.
When you see an American band sell 3 million copies of a certain record in the US, you can safely say that they went 3x Platinum and got very successful in their homeland. But the discographic industry in Brazil is different and, although the country already had more tan 160 million people in 1996, you got a Platinum record there with 80.000 record sales and a Diamond disc with 300.000 sales. In only six months, Mamonas Assassinas reached something like 7x Diamond status with 2 million copies sold. They sometimes played 2 sold-out concerts per day and were literally everywhere in Brazilian radio stations. So that’s the “phenomenon” we’re talking about.
And the mourning for their early passing was that big because they were really, really huge, and nobody had heard anything like them before. Essentially, they were a textbook example of what a comedy rock act should be: they even had a hilarious name (in Portuguese, “mamonas” may either mean “castor beans” or “big tits”, so the name was a double entendre for “The Killer Big Tits”). And with that majestic name, they made majestic musical and lyrical choices: they mashed pop punk and alt rock with multiple genres of Brazilian and international music and mocked to the T every single one of them. In other words, they made simple and extremely fun riffs with hilariously politically incorrect lyrics. If they sang some of their songs in English to a crowd of SJWs in America, they would provoke an outbreak of mass hysteria.
Unfortunately, their lyrical humor was mostly Brazilian, since they mocked mostly their national pop culture and made puns in Portuguese. However, you can clearly savour some moments. In Robocop Gay, where they unapologetically take a piss at Gay Pride-styled culture and conservatives at the same time, the mastermind Dinho delivers lyrics about a gay man who submits himself to surgery in order to attach robotic parts (such as a bigger, mechanical penis) to his body:
And today I am so euphoric
With a thousand bionic parts
Yesterday I was a Catholic
But today I’m gaaaaaaaay
Or also, in that same song:
There are gays who are named Mohammed
Trying to be discreet
Oh Allah, my good Allah…
There is, though, one song that they sing in English… and, on purpose, it’s lyrical rubbish. They clearly head the aim to piss off Brazilian metal bands like Sepultura or Sarcófago, which in their early days released lyrics with a very broken English. Therefore, Débil Metal utters (with death growl-styled vocals) totally nonsensical lyrics:
Walking in the dark
Now they’re just some cookies
Which is not for you, I know it’s not
I just can’t explain, it melts in my mouth
Dying to me now is popcorn
Can`t you understand? Can’t you understand, boy?
So, shake your head… So, shake your head, sucker!
Much more could be said about the lyrics, the driving force that made them famous. They mocked stereotypes of migrants from Northeastern Brazil to the Southeast, Portuguese people (with Vira Vira, a story of a Portuguese who sends his wife to an orgy party in his place and she returns home with only one boob left), local genres like forró, pagode and sertanejo (the genre made famous internationally by Michel Teló) and international music like Rage Against the Machine (in 1406), punk rock (with Chopis Centis ripping off the riff from The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go?) and heavy metal.
However, for those who can’t understand their humor and their cultural references, there’s a lot to enjoy too. The musicianship is quite simple, to the point that Sérgio Reoli’s drum parts could be put as examples for begginer lessons in drumming and Hinoto’s guitar parts rely a lot in simple riffing, easy solos and power chords (with some exceptions in songs like Débil Metal, with its metallic riff and shredding solo, and 1406). But can you imagine a song that mixes accordions, triangle percussion and wah-distorted riffs? Well, they manage to do that successfully in Jumento Celestino and its mockery of forró music. What about a song with the subject of sex in the animal kingdom, with a very upbeat and fast guitar riff? They also have that, in Mundo Animal. Do you like power ballads? Well, listen to Arlinda Mulher then and you’ll have that too. And do you want a memorable bassline? Then don’t miss Samuel Reoli’s slap n’ pop fest in 1406. With all that considered, “outsiders” can have a lot of simple fun with their musical delivery (except for Sabao Crá Crá and Sábado de Sol, two plain acoustic tracks which are interesting only because of their lyrics).
And on top of all that, they also managed to create some authentic anthems of Brazilian rock music. In their homeland, for example, songs like Vira Vira and Pelados em Santos are hugely famous - specially the last one.
With its ska vibe, Pelados em Santos conquered Brazil as the smash hit that propelled them to superstardom. It tells the story of a guy who fails miserably to impress a girl with presents like Fiorucci pants, a dish of beans with jabá (a very unsophisticated food), a trip to Paraguay and other ridiculous attempts.
Today, if you play Pelados em Santos for a crowd of people, you may see two possible reactions: either the whole crowd will sing the song in unison, or the majority will do so while some cry in silence. The fact that every song of this album is a classic of Brazilian pop culture says it all: their album stood beautifully on the test of time in their country and every single tear shed after that tragic crash were as genuine as the energy and the joy with which Dinho, Bento Hinoto, Júlio Rasec and brothers Samuel and Sérgio Reoli shared their unforgettable music.
Best Tracks: Vira Vira, Pelados em Santos, Robocop Gay, 1406, Débil Metal, Jumento Celestino, Cabeca de Bagre (II)