After Brazilian musician Chico Rei’s highly publicized nervous breakdown in an Atlantic City Waffle House in late ’08, many music critics speculated that the flamboyant artist’s career was finished. Now, after months of self-imposed seclusion in his alpine fortress, the self-proclaimed “Man With the Goods” has released his seventh studio album: To Win It Or To Lose It.
A slight departure from Chico’s characteristic noise-trance cowboy fusion, To Win It is an innovative shock-opera with a surprisingly soulful twist. Dubbed “ambient-motivational” by the artist, the album has an edgy, minimalist feel that features classic ragtime samples and Gregorian melodies. While much of Chico’s previous work has mainly relied on his unique stream-of-thought “shout sessions,” his new music features a softer, more humbled Chico, whose lyrics range from casually contemplative to downright introspective. The disc’s opening track, “Confidence Cricket,” is a loosely autobiographical manifesto set to a haunting glockenspiel (played by Chico himself). From there, Chico carries the listener in a winding odyssey that flirts with the incomprehensible, seamlessly meshing anecdotes from Chico’s past with outlandish mythological allusions and Machiavellian allegory. This journey comes to a gripping anti-climax in the album’s title track, which features Chico muttering in tongues over a looped sample of a dog lapping up water.
While many long-time fans of Chico’s work might find his return to the spotlight a bit of an anti-climax in itself, there is a particular realness to this album that much of his previous work lacks. While To Win It doesn’t begin to match the volume of Dexter Outrageous or the instrumental complexity of Space Island Wilderness, its startling anti-vanity leaves little doubt that Chico is speaking from the heart. To listen to this album is to glimpse into the mind of a poetic genius. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s macabre, but the whole vision is refreshingly Chico.