300 years ago when I was a college student, I had an apartment-mate who had a stellar collection of South American music. I heard a lot of great tunes that year, but the standout record was an album called “Que País É Este” (translation: What Country is This) by a Brazilian band named Legião Urbana (translation: Urban Legion). Many of the songs would be classified as punk, but there were also elements of folk, classic rock, pop, reggae, and country. If I were to say who they sounded like, I would say the Clash, R.E.M., Social Distortion, the Cure, the Replacements, the Smiths, Bob Dylan, etc. However, comparing them to anyone would diminish the fact that Legião Urbana sounds like Legião Urbana. They sound like everyone and no one else.
I meant to tape a copy of that album before the end of that school year, but didn’t get around to it because I always assumed I could take care of it quickly. But … I didn’t.
I searched for this album for years and couldn’t find it. Part of the problem was that I thought Legião Urbana was an Uruguyan band. Spanish is the primary language in Uruguay, but Portuguese is the primary language of Brazil. It also didn’t help that I couldn’t remember the name of the band, only a wrong English translation (“Urban League”). To make a long story short, I finally found the album today on Spotify … and it’s better than I remember. Much better.
The only album I can compare it to is the Clash’s “London Calling,” in that it combines a diverse mix of influences to create brilliant, punchy, unforgettable songs. Much of it (especially the first side) sounds punk, but there are melodies, hooks, and acoustic instruments.
Side two is where it really gets diverse, the centerpiece of which is “Faroeste Caboclo,” a nine-minute epic about a poor man who moves from the country to the big city, gets involved with crime, suffers tremendously for it, temporarily finds redemption, but then gets sucked back in. You can read a synopsis of the song here:
I don’t understand a word of Portuguese, but it’s a beautiful song that starts off as a folk ballad and then rises in intensity with electric guitars slashing away. It’s an epic track that is the equal of other rock epics like The Who’s “A Quick One,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” and Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia.” Actually, lead singer Renato Russo intended this to be his “Hurricane” (Bob Dylan’s classic song about boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter).
“Que País É Este” is an amazing, classic album from start to finish. It’s already legendary in Brazil. It should be legendary worldwide. Dave says “Check it out!”