In "Fora da Ordem," the opening cut on Caetano Veloso's Circuladô, the great Brazilian singer-songwriter reflects on a world in which "something has gone out of order." Brooding on a fractious urban environment where children bite "the barrel of the pistol," he concludes: "I don't wait for the day when all men will agree/I only know several beautiful harmonies without a final judgment." "Fora da Ordem," with its twangy funk groove, is the most American-sounding song on Veloso's third album (of twenty-three total) to be released in the United States. Musically as well as politically, it evokes Veloso's pluralistic vision of a diverse world culture composed of "several beautiful harmonies."
If you blended Stevie Wonder's mysticism and social consciousness, Cole Porter's romantic sophistication and the hushed intensity of the Brazilian singer-guitarist João Gilberto, you might begin to have some idea of the range of inflections in Veloso's music, which is written and performed in Portuguese.
What sets Veloso apart is the fact that he is a true poet as well as a brilliant pop musician; his lithe, guitar-based melodies carry lyrics that make astounding leaps to grasp the essences of things. Those lyrics can be ecstatic, as in "Itapuã," a gorgeous ballad arranged for guitar, voices and string quartet that evokes a Bahian childhood idyll in language that is both religious and sexual. Almost as lovely is "Lindeza," a quiet ode to joy that acknowledges how "humanity grows" from an apprehension of beauty. The delicate "Boas Vindas" may be the most beautiful song about the birth of a child since Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely." "There is the fear and there is the rose," he intones softly. "I say it's delicious."
These celebrations of life are balanced by harsh reflections of social discord. The most searing, "O Cu do Mundo" (which means "asshole of the world"), describes "the saddest nation," torn with theft, rape, kidnapping and lynch mobs. Although Veloso's singing rarely rises in volume above the level of an intimate conversation, the emotional crosscurrents that ripple through his intense murmur convey feelings that include even the staunchest outrage.