Gogol Bordello - Trans-Continental Hustle
Part Russian-Jew wedding band, part European folkies and part New York punkers, Gogol Bordello have carved out a sizable niche for a cult act and a fanatical following. Trans-Continental Hustle represents a quantum leap forward for the band as a recording entity, but it might come at too high a cost for their existing fanbase.
Discussing Gogol Bordello without talking about their live show is an exercise in futility since it makes up such a huge piece of what the band is and dovetails with what has always made their albums feel like half-baked prospects. Gogol Bordello is a big musical mess, a sort of Cliffs Notes version of a wide variety of European folk married to a high voltage but somewhat artless brand of punk. There’s a long list of reasons why Gogol Bordello shouldn’t work, but Ukrainian lead singer Eugene Hutz with his ridiculous Boris Badinov butchering of the language and sweaty machismo exudes the exact right kind of energy that makes the band a pure joy. They are an utterly unique presence not just in music but anywhere. This type of energy, however, is difficult - if not impossible to convey via recording. Indeed, Bordello albums mostly acted as a primer for the initiated to learn the words they would be screaming is the next show. Into this fray enters super-producer Rick Rubin.
The band’s latest release Trans-Continental Hustle was helmed by the producer/late-period career archivist/beard enthusiast Rubin – a move that was received with more eye-rolls and trepidation than anything else. Fanatics of the band will, I’m guessing, feel somewhat vindicated for their initial reaction because Hustle is indeed far more staid and polished than anything Gogol has ever released previously. The up-shot to this is, however, that as a purely recorded exercise, this is the band’s finest hour thus far. The mix highlights what were always the band’s greatest strengths: the squealing violin, the manic accordion, group-vocals and the exuberant inter-play between the band members. Rubin has cleared room for everything and done without losing much of the emotional punch of previous efforts.
But therein lies the rub – it has lost a little of the emotional punch. Trans-Continental Hustle is no longer a purely visceral affair and while it hasn’t been toned to the point that any fans could feel betrayed, I’m guessing more than a few kool-aid drinkers are going to walk away after hearing this record and that’s a shame. Hustle represents an improvement across the board – a startling development considered just how good they were in the first place. The music is more melodic and dynamic. Tracks like “When Universes Collide” build and swell with a fluidity, subtlety and maturity completely unheard of for Gogol previously.
Transcontinental Hustle should and God-willing, will pull Gogol Bordello from the margins of indie rock and thrust headlong into legitimacy. Sure they’re gimmicky, but it’s such a fantastic gimmick and more to the point, a band this wonderful, this joyful shouldn’t be ignored by anyone.
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