Review Summary: Musically varied and lyrically profound, Construcao doesn’t just deserve to be heard, it deserves to be experienced.
I have misgivings sometimes about writing about, or even rating an album in a language that I don’t speak. My experience of the album is necessarily stunted, limited by the fact that there will be a whole means of communication, arguably the primary means of communication, that I cannot have access to, much as if I had begun to review an album without having even the most basic understanding of rhythm or melody. The problem of cultural distance begins to rear its head as well, and a painful inadequacy when thinking of even the possibility of grasping the album, certainly enough to write about it, begins to take hold. Yet, even to my outsider ears, even when relying on internet translations to understand the gist of a song and pair its musical language with its verbal language, there is a depth to Construcao that hits instantly, that even I’m able to pick up on immediately, and that only continues to reveal itself when examined more closely.
Before even getting into the lyrical content, the immediate takeaway from Construcao
is that it is dark, exploratory, riddled with tension and an angst that belies whatever stereotypes the likes of Novos Baianos had implanted in me about Brazilian music. Cinematic touches, dramatic shifts in mood, a sense of strain and stress fill all but the most lighthearted tracks. On Cotidiano, the minor key guitar droning over a tense, clattering percussive beat, creates a suffocating atmosphere as Chico spins a poetic image of a woman who is, seemingly, the very image of an ideal lover, but whose portrait is marred with a casually dropped line here and there by something verging on the sinister, something that the narrator wants to escape from, but finds himself inexorably trapped by. It’s the kind of nuance that I’d have never been able to pick up in the moment of the song, only in hindsight, in reading the translated lyrics can I recognize that the tension of the music is seemingly belied by the tender lyrics, a dissonance that only at crucial moments becomes consonant. Again, I wonder how much of the rest of the album am I missing, what sense of its depth am I left unable to appreciate.
The rest of the album continues with this cinematic sense of tension and poetic drama. The title track is punctuated with the swirling woodwinds and strings so often heard in the film soundtracks of the time, the lyrics about the dissociated death in traffic of a despairing construction worker and family man, his suicide an empty railing against his own alienation, the moments before his death described first as passionate, then machine-like, then with the cold fury of judgement on society. And as the album continues on, the sunny and soothing Cordao burying the dramatic tension of the title track and I pore over these lyrics in an effort to understand the songs that carry them, and flatter myself that maybe my distance of language and culture gives a perspective that makes this disconnect valuable, the hindsight nature of my understanding of these songs fitting the pieces of these works together, the beautiful depth of this album only revealing itself to me with patience and effort.
Because there is a depth to this album that isn’t apparent on the surface, in the relaxed, jaunty tune of Samba de Orly concealing its melancholy, hiding its tears in its smooth danceability, in the stark, spidery creep of Valsinha, the little waltz that carries in its romantic phrases and turns toward brightness the whispered intimation of death. Valsinha, in particular, encapsulates so much of what makes this album unique, in its incongruity, its lyrical deception, its knack for taking the phrases and intimations of love and desire and peeling back the darkness that lurks underneath them. When the song makes its turn to the celebration of love reconciled, when the kisses and raucous screams lead to dawn’s silence, the creepy incongruity of the lyrics becomes horrifically clear. A relief then, that Minha Historia takes a musically lighter tack, a wistfulness in both mood and lyrics that trades in the dramatic irony at least for a while in favor of a melancholic portrait of the singer’s mother, one no less poetic than anything that has gone on before, as nostalgia and longing turns to loss of hope as his mother waits hopelessly for his father’s return.
And then, in the moments here and there when I’m not trying to play catch-up with the lyrics and wishing I’d ever kept up with Duolingo, when I’m not marveling over the deeply literary quality of the songwriting paired with the cinematic and dramatic sensibilities of the music, I can let myself be carried away by the music itself, the sensibility that is both unique to Chico and deeply rooted in the sounds of Brazil, the bossanova and samba of the time rendered the vehicle for something so much deeper, much as the likes of Dylan and Cohen were doing with folk music here in the states. The musical variety that is brought to the album never strays too far from the stylistic conventions of my limited understanding of Brazilian music, but the little stylistic touches, the percussion, the strings, the touches of jazz, the cello on the eerie lullaby of Acalanto are all brilliantly and originally arranged into something that, like the best of any music, transcend its individual influences and becomes something original.
So I delve and explore into this piece of excellence knowing my linguistic limitations are holding me back from the kind of understanding that would do this thing justice, but also knowing that its excellence is just that apparent, and that when enough effort is put into the thing as a package, that an even greater depth than the fact that it’s able to convey all these moods and stories in the space of a half-hour reveals itself. Even these clumsy internet translations reveal that Buarque is a poet, a first-class shaper of the world through his words, and, when the words are paired with music, a master of mood and dramatic irony. Few artists in our own language are able to make a single line carry so much weight, the aforementioned Cohen is one of the names I could come up with without too much effort, and like that poet Buarque’s lyrical heft is found in tension and a knack for displacement, an incongruous word thrown casually into the mix that alters the meaning of the whole picture. If Construcao
, in its brevity, leaves the reader and listener wanting more, another song or two to fill out the too-brief half-hour that it takes up, more power to it I say. For me, with my lack of grasp of the nuance of the album and its language, half an hour is more than enough material to keep me occupied for a while.