Lindsay, an American who grew up in Brazil, came to New York in the mid-’70s intent on becoming an artist. Only later did he adopt music as his medium and develop a unique percussive style of singing and playing guitar — generally around the beat, seldom on it — and no melodies, thank you. His guitar is untuned; his voice strains to deliver its quota of sounds. (Lindsay’s two main vocal influences are James Brown and the sound of people screwing.) In assembling the Ambitious Lovers, Lindsay balances the electronic expertise of Peter Scherer with Brazilian percussionists and injects himself as the catalyst, with help from Mark Miller of the Toy Killers.
On Envy, Lindsay and five Lovers recapitulate his career — the tight, anti-melodic structures of DNA, the charging funk-noise of the Golden Palominos — yet deliver something new as well. “Let’s Be Adult” is an unabashed dancefloor move and, on “Dora,” Lindsay turns crooner, caressing a soulful melody anyone could hum. The catch is that it’s in Portuguese — oh, that Arto! Lindsay’s words are tantalizingly oblique, but there’s nothing oblique about his record’s lusty cry for recognition.
The Ambitious Lovers then settled down to a duo of Lindsay and keyboardist Scherer, although John Zorn, Vernon Reid, Nan Vasconcelos and others make contributions to Greed. Still frequently spattered with nutty noises, the album is surprisingly accessible; Arto’s singing (again in English and Portuguese) rarely requires listener indulgence. So if “King” contains some impressive chicken squawk guitar and a houseful of Latin percussion instruments, the song itself is reasonably mainstream. Whether Greed is viewed as a commercial compromise or a more subtly subversive undertaking than the first LP, the mixture of normalcy and extremism gives it fascinating dynamic tension.
Pretty Ugly consists of ballet and theater commissions Scherer and Lindsay undertook between the first two Ambitious Lovers LPs. Mostly instrumental, the disc offers a tonic to those who deemed Greed too mainstream. This sonic feast, including the 26-minute title cut, brims with jarring sounds and rhythms but it coheres just as well — and as unexpectedly — as late DNA material.
Still reflecting a strong Brazilian influence, the Lovers’ next album, Lust, ventures even further into commercial realms than Greed, eschewing the short, quirky song fragments that were dotted among the more accessible numbers on the previous album and going for an overall smoother feel. The group remains artistically uncompromised, however; one might say that Scherer and Lindsay are as mersh as they wanna be. And as funky, too: the group’s cover of Jorge Ben’s classic “Umbabarauma” is an irresistible dancefloor workout. Lust has enough of that unique Lindsay guitar squeal to keep the old-timers interested, but traditionalists might be disappointed that Arto’s turning into an out-and-out crooner — and a damn good one at that. His lyrics, almost exclusively dealing with romance and sexuality, remain as peculiarly trenchant as ever — in that department, he’s a postmodern Cole Porter. With all that going for it, plus the always innovative and intriguing sonic textures Scherer so effortlessly weaves, Lust is another solid and dazzling work in the Ambitious Lovers’ canon. But what happens when they run out of deadly sins?