There are certain things that, once dead, should probably stay buried. The Nightmare on Elm Street series, The Rockford Files, or, as the trinket-laden Bom Tempo affirms, Sergio Mendes’s career. Mendes’s career was already tarnished by an ‘80s descent into lackluster soft-rock, and the album repeats the unfortunate theme of his shaky latter-day experiments, dressing things up with modern trappings and a stunningly inept production style.
The last time we heard from Mendes, he was being given the Santana treatment on 2008’s Encanto, which followed the equally crappy Timeless from two years earlier. Timeless marked the point where the Black Eyed Peas’s will.i.am took charge of Mendes career, wresting him from retirement for circling spins around the contemporary tropical milieu. This has been nothing short of terrible. will.i.am has proven adept as a musical archivist and basically nothing else, leaving sticky fingerprints and mucking things up via wild overproduction.
Timeless had been Mendes’s first album in 10 years, and it’s hard to argue that this series of projects has done anything but further muddy his legacy. Bom Tempo is less studded with famous names but equally busy, avoiding settling on a calm mood through constant rap and dancehall-inspired intrusions. “Maracatu Atomico” is nauseatingly brittle, at first sounding like a MIDI approximation of bossa nova, before being hijacked by a squelching Stevie Wonder-style electric keyboard and some obligatory rapping.
“Orpheus Quiet Carnival,” which draws titular inspiration from Black Orpheus, is as flat and cartoonish as the Wii Sports background music, standing up feebly to the Marcel Camus’s film’s fantastic Antonio Carlos Jobim soundtrack. Jobim’s compositions are represented here, as is one of Wonder’s, joining the ranks of covers from a generation of Brazilian musicians. But it’s nearly impossible to spot any semblance of their charm beneath the shellacking that has been applied.
A cover of Mendes’s own instantly recognizable “Mas Que Nada” acts as a requisite bit of CV flashing, as well as a segue for the simultaneously released remix album. That project finds DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Nervo reinterpreting tracks from this release, which feels strange considering that it’s basically a reinterpretation itself. That “Mas Que Nada” was originally a cover (of Jorge Ben’s 1963 original) and was already adequately pissed on by the Black Eyed Peas on Timeless points out how beaten-up this material has become. If that wasn’t enough, it also gets sampled on the opening track, “Emorio,” stomped all over as the beat for a tacky hip-hop refashioning.
As willful abuse of an artist whose best years are long behind him, Bom Tempo is crude and exploitative. It patently ignores the things that made Mendes’s music vital in the first place. The airy serenity that has left his ‘60s compositions intact, still infectious after years of cheesy reproduction and overuse, has been swallowed whole. Radio-baiting Sturm und Drang replaces it. Bits of Mendes’s inborn charm remain, but the forced layering of up-to-the-minute sounds feels unnatural and cheap. Consistently weak and often very ugly, Bom Tempo is definitely far less than Mendes deserves.