As an icon in his native Brazil, Caetano Veloso ranks just shy of the Christ the Redeemer statue that leers over Rio's Guanabara Bay.
Four decades after co-founding the tropicalismo movement as a fire-breathing countercultural revolutionary, Veloso's revered as a renaissance man whose eclectic body of work has ricocheted from romanticism to the avant-garde.
Lately, some thought he was becoming a mannered elder statesman. But on cê (which is simply the letter C), he defies that notion with a wiry, often barbed collection of songs with an indie-rock vibe. This edge is partially attributable to the young rock trio he's collaborating with, and the lean co-production of guitarist Pedro Sá and Veloso's son, Moreno. But Veloso remains a playful alchemist who loves ambiguity and clearly enjoys exploiting the myriad disparities—age, temperament, potency—at work here.
Most prominent is the contrast between Veloso's supple, essentially sweet voice and the band's nimble urgency, which cultivates a flamenco-tinged impressionism on "Minhas Lágrimas," etches angular minimalism on "Deusa Urbana," and flares most dramatically on "Rocks"(which does). On the dirge-like "Waly Sãlomao," Sá lacerates an ominous beat with a noirish electric guitar line while Veloso's ethereal wail teeters between pain and ecstasy. Such enigmas carry over into the lyrics—all in Portuguese—which, as usual, are full of wordplay, surrealistic images, polemics, and tenderness. On cê, they also glisten with restless sensuality. Veloso repeatedly brings up bodily functions, parts, and fluids, but transcends the overtly orgasmic with a kind of existential elegance. At 64, Veloso may be unapologetically randy, but he has few delusions, blithely calling himself an old man and referring to signs of physical decay. Nevertheless, the spark and lithe ingenuity at every turn here suggest the old man and the cê are still full of life.