Gogol Bordello

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Voi-La Intruder (1999), 6/10
Multi Kontra Culti Vs Irony (2002), 6.5/10
Gypsy Punks (2005), 7/10
Super Taranta (2007), 5/10
Trans-Continental Hustle (2010), 6.5/10

Gogol Bordello, formed in New York by Ukrainian vocalist Eugene Hutz and Russian fiddler Sergey Rjabtzev, debuted their gypsy-tinged world-music played at punk speed on Voi-La Intruder (1999).

Adding Russian accordionist Yuri Lemeshev, Israeli guitarist Oren Kaplan and Israeli saxophonist Ori Kaplan to the founding duo, Multi Kontra Culti Vs Irony (2002) marked the satori of their blazing and witty multicultural pop. They are their best in the fast numbers, like the grotesque polka When The Trickster Starts A-Poking, with operetta and musichall detours, the pub singalong Huliganjetta, and Occurrence On The Border, tinged with flamenco and Surfin Bird-era Ramones. Not everything is exuberant and comic: Haltura is almost romantic thanks to poignant interplay of accordion, saxophone and fiddle, Through The Roof 'N' Underground sounds like a Mexican serenade, and too many songs are melodramatic like in a Broadway musical. The centerpiece is the lively and manic nine-minute Hats Off To Kolpakoff, which is a musical in itself before it becomes a wild street jam.

Gypsy Punks - Underdog World Strike (Side One Dummy, 2005) is a more adult work that channels their Fugs-like sarcasm towards more melodramatic ends. Even the most comic skits, namely Sally, a pounding polka hijacked by a Chaplin-esque violin, the fibrillating circus-like square dance Think Locally Fuck Globally (their most hilarious anthem yet), and the ska-tinged Immigrant Punk, with a devilish intermezzo for violin and accordion, shun the musichall-ish overtones of the previous albums. The emotional core is represented by shouted emphatic haringues like Not A Crime (a gypsy traditional) and 60 Revolutions, adequately buttressed by the breathless blue-collar punk-rock I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again, the convulsed Dogs Were Barking, the manic flamenco Oh No, and the pub singalong Start Wearing Purple (their first hit single). They now display the ability not just to recite but to recite drama of a high caliber, and the swinging and mutating Mishto demonstrates how both music and voice contribute to the feat. The demented linguistic pastiche of Santa Marinella, delivered like the world is about to end, summarizes their philosophy. Compared with the previous albums, that flowed like musichall skits, this is a "difficult" and intense album. Overall, they prove to be skilled songwriters and only jesters.

Super Taranta (2007) focused on Hutz's songwriting and came out an inferior work.

Meanwhile, Ori Kaplan had founded a rival band, Balkan Beat Box.

Trans-Continental Hustle (American, 2010) was both their punk and their mainstream album, moving them closer to the Pogues albeit with a polished sound. By now Gogol Bordello was a nine-piece unit (including two female dancers, Ethiopian bassist Thomas Gobena and Ecuadorian percussionist Pedro Erazo). Their streamlined fervor yields the gypsy singalong Pala Tute (another traditional), the rousing anthem My Companjera, the blistering Immigraniada, the western-movie gallop To Rise Above, the circus square dance Break The Spell, the swirling melodramatic In The Meantime In Pernambuco, etc.
The melodic skills of the singer shape the poppy flamenco-ish Rebellious Love, the moving ska Last One Goes The Hope (the standout in this slower form), and the catchy Brazilian-esque Uma Menina. The anthemic closer, Trans-Continental Hustle, harks back to the solemn tones of Gypsy Punks and delivers the immortal line "Hey hey hey hey, hali hali ho, hali hali hey".
As it is often the case with anarchic music, the transition to a more classic sound takes away the spontaneous aspect that was actually the very soul of the music; but Hutz's vocal skills can turn anything into a calvary.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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