Man, don’t you just hate that massive influx of bands coming out of the Ukraine that all sound like someone else? Please, before you read any further, know that I am trying to be ironical. Gogol Bordello, if you haven’t heard them already, and I hope for your sake you have, are probably the least derivative band in modern history. Well, at least not derivative of popular modern bands. Eugene Hütz started this band in New York City after emigrating from the Ukraine, teaming up with a pair of Russians, an Israeli, an Ethiopian, an American and now a couple of mixed race Asian dancers. Forget the controversy over the terms `melting pot’ and `salad bowl’ (which drives me crazy), Gogol Bordello has virtually recreated the UN, and is far more entertaining. (Though I hear that Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali were quite the partiers, doing keg-stands on 42nd Street on the Fourth of July screaming, “The British are coming!” and then snickering like schoolgirls). But I digress. Super Taranta! is the latest full-length release from the international gypsy-punk collective and one that won’t disappoint its high-energy fans.
This time around, Gogol Bordello employed the services of producer Victor Van Vugt who has worked extensively with a band that stands among GB’s heroes, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. (Hütz used to listen to black market tapes of the Birthday Party back in the Ukraine). The spaghetti-western guitar twang layered in the opening track “Ultimate” shows an immediate connection between the two bands and their shared producer. Way back when, my brother’s band played a show in which they opened up for Gogol Bordello. This happenstance struck me in two different ways. At the time, not knowing who they were, I was immediately intrigued when my brother simply described them by saying, “Those fuckers are crazy!” The second thing that struck me, years later, was the odd pairing of those bands. They sounded nothing alike. Of course, it did then dawn on me that there’s really nothing else out there like Gogol Bordello. The Pogues are similar in that they combine punk with music from their past heritage, but the regional difference is substantial. The same holds true for Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers who have the theatricality down, but replace the Eastern European with Southern Gothic. Devotchka and Beirut have Eastern European flavors, but lack the punk energy and insane stage show.
The only unfortunate aspect of a Gogol Bordello recording is the lack of the electricity and vitality of their live performance. However, in songs like “Wonderlust King,” with its call and response vocals, one can imagine what that might be like, at least marginally. Misspellings and broken English grammar add to the charm of Gogol Bordello, but there are also times when it seems as though the band’s vocabulary exceeds that of American schooled adults. Take for instance the fantastic standout track, “Supertheory of Supereverything.” Hütz utters lines like, “from the maelstrom of the knowledge / Into labyrinth of doubt” when discussing the ideas of atheism and science versus the Christian religion. Throughout the album, there are times when Gogol Bordello sounds like an updated version of Oingo Boingo, itself a multi-cultural flavorful punk band (“Zina-Marina”), poke fun at their adopted home country (“Your Country,” “American Wedding”) and long for their actual homeland (“Suddenly…(I Miss Carpaty)”).
The theme of the `taranta’ of the album’s title, which I believe is related to the tarantella, a manic whirling celebratory dance, is prevalent throughout the album. Songs like “Harem in Tuscany (Taranta)” build themselves up into a frantic dervish of energy, mimicking not only the band’s energetic live show, but also their philosophies of enjoying every last drop of life. This is touched on in “American Wedding” in which they wonder why wedding parties in this country aren’t the festive gatherings they should be. Hütz sums it up with the last line, “(the) word celebration just doesn’t come to mind.” Gogol Bordello, when it comes right down to it, are about just that, celebration. Who can fault a band that includes the lyric “all who didn’t like the Stooges would go to fucking hell!“? In the end, though, I’m sure the band loves America, because where else would they be able to do what they do, release records and star in hit movies with Elijah Wood? (Who, for you people who can’t get enough of tabloid journalism, is dating Pamela Racine, one of the two dancers and backup singers). If the `thanks’ section is any kind of proof, they don’t take for granted anything they’ve received over the years, mentioning nearly everyone who has helped them along in their artistic careers including the restaurant Mehanata where Hütz DJ’d on Thursday nights. Gogol Bordello has come a long way since then, even having one of their more popular songs co-opted by the Minnesota Vikings (“Start Wearing Purple”), and if you haven’t joined in on the gypsy punk bandwagon caravan, now’s the time to start.
Gogol Bordello- Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers – Believe
Kultur Shock- We Came to Take Your Jobs Away