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