Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle (2010)

by Max Fishkin

I saw Gogol Bordello at All Points West in August 2009 and loved every second of it. But the band and its sound does not translate verbatim to record. The atmosphere of the crowd, the presence of the nine-piece band and the ornate dancers transports you to a kickin’ dance party that never dies down. The greatest part of seeing Gogol Bordello live is that you can’t help but jump around and throw your fist in the air; the music takes you over. Your primal instincts of the world at large are forgotten for the time being and there is nothing left to do but enjoy the party! While I will still review their new album, I highly recommend seeing Gogol Bordello live because the spirit of their performance doesn’t seem to be captured on any of their recordings.

But I can’t go on reviewing the tracks just yet. Something was bothering me early into the album. The quality of songwriting on their new album is stellar, but the production is momentarily lackluster. On the back of the hard copy of their fifth album Trans-Continental Hustle, in bolded letters it reads Produced by Rick Rubin. If you’ve been following some other work by Rick Rubin, you will notice a general distortion at peaks in the music, i.e. on a loud drum fill or accented beat. Point and case: listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song Californication, and the clipping begins when the drum fill carries the listener from verse to chorus, and on the accents in the chorus. Metallica’s latest release, Death Magnetic, received huge amount of criticism for being ruined by said distortion, an effort to compete in the Loudness Wars. The magnitude of this error doesn’t compare on Trans-Continental Hustle, but it still irks me on the few seconds I notice it. The initial few seconds on ‘Rebellious Love’ is a perfect example.

Gogol Bordello’s Trans-Continental Hustle does not wait a second to find its groove. Just like most Gogol Bordello tunes, they get you off your feet to dance or rage like a punk rocker. The first track, “Pala Tute”, sees the trans-continental influence that Eugene Hütz has absorbed in his time trekking the globe with Gogol Bordello. The growing fame for this multi-cultural band hasn’t gotten to Hütz’s head when he sings lines like “Caravan is comin’/All guitars are strumin’/And says old hitano/Boy, forget about the bling”. Many of these lyrics are in Romani. “My Companjera” drives the ol’ Gogol sound home and is itching me to kick loose and start dancing. The ache of missing a distant love is the theme of this song, but it doesn’t damper the upbeat spirit of the tune itself.

The somber feeling from the previous track is prevalent on “Sun Is On My Side”, but the message is endearing to the missed and distant lover. The ‘dai dai duh rum dum’ chants bring me back to my time spent in Temple, hearing the cantor wail and chant the prayers with a furious fervor. But Hütz did not let the somber mood hang around for long after he reminisced about his “Rebellious Love”. Hütz postures, “Will they ever capture one another?”, referencing mankind, love and god. Maybe he is alluding to the fact that he missed a lover while in his new home of Brazil. Gogol’s punk roots have not been abandoned, as evidence by the two-step breakdown on ‘Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher). As Trans-Continental Hustle proves, Gogol Bordello will continue to take cues from foreign influences while holding onto their roots, resulting in tunes that are universal and fresh in sound.

RIYL: Balkan Beat Box, DeVotchKa, J.U.F., Kultur Shock, Romashka, Jason Webley, Csókolom, Besh o droM, The Clash, Iggy Pop, Kal, Taraf de Haïdouks


Gogol Bordello – Pala Tute



Gogol Bordello – My Companjera



Official Site



Max Fishkin



  1. Nothing wrong with “momentarily lackluster” production if the songwriting is dope. In fact, I’m frickin’ sick and tired of clean production. It’s boring. I feel like I’m listening to a clock on steroids instead of human beings making music.

    Those promo pics are dope as hell. I wanna see these guys perform.

  2. It’s not the fact that the production is too pristine, its the fact that because the music distorts, it ruins the listening experience. Why should a major label act go into a professional studio, work their asses off, just to have someone ‘behind the glass’ churn out a damaged product? It isnt fair to the band or the listener.

  3. Maybe the product isn’t damaged. Maybe they wanted it that way.

    I have nothing against “pristine” production, by the way, unless it’s a cover for crappy songwriting as seems to be the case for all but a few radio-ready acts.

    Good songwriting makes poor production forgiveable. That’s all I’m sayin’.

  4. looks like p4k agrees with fishkin on this one:

    “That changes somewhat with Trans-Continental Hustle, as Gogol Bordello work with famed producer Rick Rubin, who ostensibly is largely responsible for a newfound emphasis on nuance and dynamics, in contrast to the always-in-fifth-gear MO that has defined the band. Results are mixed– “Sun Is on My Side” offers lovely accordion and a weary, haunting refrain, but the midtempo “Uma Menina Uma Cigana” feels flat and perfunctory, while the lugubriousness of “When Universes Collide” actually undermines Hutz’s harrowing, poverty-tinged lyrics.”

  5. Dear Max Fishkin,

    Do some research before you write please. Eugene IS NOT SINGING ANY PORTUGESE in Pala Tute.
    That’s an old Romani / Gypsy song. I can’t trust any other words you’ve typed here. It seems all you know
    of the music is that you’ve seen them once and you read a blog about Eugene having moved to Brazil,
    as I see you mention that at least twice.

    ALSO, since you seem to make such HUGE failures in your final product of a review here, it’s REALLY hard for me to accept criticism of say… Gogol and Rubin’s final product. It firther leads me to believe that you didn’t get an advance copy of the CD. Let me guess, you’re listenning to mp3 versions of the songs on a crappy sound system.

    The album is amazing. go buy it. don’t ask questions. There’s my review.

  6. lol @ gadjo for making rash assumptions about someone because they messed up something that minor. just because he doesn’t know the difference between Portuguese and Romani doesn’t mean he’s not entitled to express his opinion about music, especially when the actual content of music is a universal language. thus, such errors are trivial and gadjo is an immature baby for trying to bring exaggerated light to it.

    and i can pretty much verify he has a better sound system than you, so such accusations are stupid

  7. I don’t see it as a small error. Pala Tute is an old traditional song and is well known for being just that.
    It would be like calling a re-tooling of a Cuban “Son” song Korean. True, music is universal, but general rule of journalism: always check your sources and always fact check before publication.

    Anyway – he includes that (mis)information to make his review sound more intelligent and informed. As for the sound system – Any excellent sound system will still show up the horrible outcome that is mp3 file format. As this review was made prior to the release, and includes errors such as the language foul up, I am led to assume he didnt have advance CD copy.

  8. gadjo, you are correct regarding the linguistic mix-up, but you are making rash assumptions regarding everything else to coincide with your own personalized view of the album. yes, it is sung in Romani, that is an objective fact. your other statements are not though, and often times false. the reviewer has an advanced copy and has worked directly with Sony. it was listened to in high-quality and with attentive care, and the opinions expressed in this article are valid because they are opinion-based. that error is factually incorrect, but it is based on an understandably flawed perception. just ask yourself how many people are able to distinguish between Portuguese and Romani. what makes you think that understandable error makes the entire article faulty? this is especially considering that the album’s language is not even a central component of this review. regardless, I have revised this part of the article and thank you for bringing it to our attention.

    he thinks Rubin’s production was a detriment to the album’s sound and Bordello’s amazing energy, which is captured best in live performance. many other reviewers, all with prestige, echoed these sentiments regarding Rubin (Pitchfork posted the identical opinion after this was published, as the few posts above show). you might as well quibble with all the other sites who echo these opinions, which is a large number of them: http://www.metacritic.com/music/artists/gogolbordello/transcontinentalhustle
    there are no linguistic experts on staff to check for matters related to translation. writers do the best they can, but with such subtle differences there is little reason to expect consummate foreign-based linguistic accuracy in its entirety when the writer’s aim is to write about music.

    any individual who judges others’ opinions on music based on whether or not they can distinguish between Romani and Portuguese really should be cautious when reading music criticism, as I can guarantee that many writers you revere wouldn’t know the first thing about this differentiation. if assigned, they would try their best to make the difference, but this sort of stuff happens when the topic (like differentiating between Portuguese and Romani) contains extremely individualistic components of knowledge, usually requiring the knowledge of native speakers or those who have taken a class in it (i.e. put money forth towards learning it). true, more research should have been applied to correct this before publication, but to make the type of assumptions you made based on that one error is rash.

  9. Respctfully, it’s not a LINGUISTIC mistake, but a musical mistake.
    the song is an OLD OLD OLD traditional song.

    I’m not looking for anyone to distinguish language. Most likely a simple GOOGLE search would be sufficient research to discover that the song is an old traditional song of Romany tradition.

    Again, we’re not talking about native speakers or non-native speakers of languages.
    FYG: per my previous, Cuban SON is not a song that typicallty as lyrics.

    talking music here, not language.

  10. Ps: I don’t care what opinion one has of the content of a piece of work, and I welcome all sorts of ideas and opinions… but from where I sit with tube amplifyer there’s no distortion in the beginning of “Rebellious Love” at all. I don’t know… no one else has noted this. so I’m not sure how you can say that Pitchfork gave the same observation.

    Sure, it’s there in Californiacation: no doubt.

  11. I never said anyone made the same statement regarding that specific track. however, it is certainly a general consensus via that publication and respectable others that Rubin may have been responsible for emphasizing components of distortion that proved to be a detriment to the presentation of the band’s ferocious energy, which was already apparent enough. as far as track-by-track insight from the reviewer, I have no say in that since I personally didn’t express that opinion regarding “Rebellious Love”.

    no problem with you disagreeing with something like that, but I just want to stress that mixing up the Portuguese and Romani languages should have little bearing on your impression of this review as a whole. I do not publish reviews on this site unless I feel the writer has made a full effort in his writing and research, so I can assure you there is nothing suspicious or uninformed apart from that miscue. I have full knowledge that the item reviewed was an official promotional copy, the same quality that is now in record stores. so please, do not allow that isolated mistake to form falsehoods in the review as a whole. it’s only a “musical mistake” if the differentiation between Portuguese/Romani has a strong bearing on the review’s focus and/or aim. that was just a false bit of information, slightly more severe than messing up a birthday, and did not have any dramatic effect on the words subsequently following it.

    so, now we can move on and talk about something that is truly subjective, like the effectiveness of production on this album. again though, thanks for bringing that error to my attention. as you said, it is something that needs to be noted and considered, but not over-emphasized to the point of devaluing the entire article.

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