Album Review: Trans-Continental Hustle by Gogol Bordello
Very Good, Based on 11 Critics
Prefix Magazine - 85 Based on rating 8.5/10
Gogol Bordello had fallen somewhat off the radar prior to its extensive touring for Trans-Continental Hustle, the band's major-label debut (if that matters anymore). As you'll hear in "Break The Spell," Hutz's upbringing -- ethnically half-Roma, he arrived in America as a political refugee from Ukraine after the disaster at Chernobyl and the end of the cold war -- showcases the diversity and disparities of American life and musical songstyles that too often get lost in rock's eternal debates. For those who only know Gogol Bordello through the success of "Start Wearing Purple," the band is no novelty act.
Based on Eugene Hütz’s experiences in Brazil, the newest from Gogol still sounds completely Roman gypsy—but with even more tongue in the cheek. The opening of “Pala Tute” tells of a childhood love to accordions and fiddles, whereas “Break the Spell” pairs twin guitar licks with the lyric, “Just because I come from Roma camp up on the hill/they put me in a school for the mentally ill.” Though Hütz might be out of whack, this album is surely no loser. JONATHAN FALCONE .
Since Super Taranta!, Gogol Bordello’s excellent 2007 breakthrough, the band has built plenty of hot anticipation for a follow-up by earning a reputation as one of rock’s most combustible live bands. Along the way, they caught the ear of goldsmith-guru Rick Rubin, who has produced their fifth album, Trans-continental Hustle. Gogol has the kind of fiercely loyal audience that grows jealous of its beloved band, so the news of Rubin’s involvement came with both eagerness and anxiety.
Eccentric is not the word for Gogol Bordello; it’s full-pitch, blood curdling insanity. No surprise that they’ve been invited to play the likes of Tate Modern and the Venice Beinnale - that they are, y’know, critically acclaimed - because this palpable madness manifests itself in music that is just plain interesting. Rough around the edges, honest but, above all, extremely interesting.
Trans-Continental Hustle, Gogol Bordello's fifth studio album, first on a major label, and first with producer/guru extraordinaire Rick Rubin, is one that you really want to love. It has everything about it that Gogol Bordello fans demand: rollicking punk and fiddle-fueled verses and rousing, easy to chant choruses. Most of all, it has plenty of Eugene Hütz, the impassioned, gravel- and vodka-voiced singer who has nearly single-handedly -- with his playful take on English grammar and intermittent bursts of other languages, penchant for chanting, and endlessly inspiring and exhausting live performances -- brought various Gypsy cultures from the fringe to something celebrated (and performed) by Madonna, without ever seeming like he was selling out or doing anything that wasn't really, really cool.
Eugene Hutz, tireless rabble-rousing frontman for gypsy-punk iconoclasts Gogol Bordello, has traveled great literal and spiritual distances to be where he is today. A teenage Hutz immigrated to the United States as a political refugee in the early 1990s at the conclusion of an arduous journey begun in his native Ukraine. Assembling his band in New York City in 1999, he's spent over two decades pouring passion and sweat into establishing Gogol Bordello as one of America's most chaotically enthralling live acts and relentlessly ebullient recording artists.
Innovative sound feels strained Eugene Hütz’s belligerent snarl has never been particularly easy on the ears, and when paired with Gogol Bordello’s hodgepodge of punk and traditional Eastern European influences, it’s often downright bizarre. On Trans-Continental Hustle, the group’s fifth full-length album—and first major-label release—this aggressive weirdness isn’t tempered in the slightest. From the outset, the band dares you to stomach a freakish amalgam of maniacal instrumentals and tempestuous beats without any apparent regard for aesthetic development; in opener “Pala Tute,” Hütz greets listeners with Slavic folk guitars, a vigorous beat and a thick Ukranian accent, yet hurriedly rushes into that all-too-familiar hostility and ostentation that comprises the rest of the album.
The conceit behind Gogol Bordello has always been a slightly sticky one: a group that affirms motley, melting-pot culture collision while treating those cultures as exploitable trinkets, pursuing unity through a mashed-together, sped-up blend of jagged stereotypes. Led by the magnetic Eugene Hutz, a vodka-swilling, moustache-twirling embodiment of pan-Slavic clownishness, they’ve cobbled together what Robert Christgau has called “the world’s most visionary band,” a brusquely global collective which espouses punk brotherhood via reductive cultural shorthand. Yet however tempting it may be to scrutinize this rampant abuse of easy signifiers, it ultimately feels embarrassing, an affront to what’s fundamentally a primal brand of feel-good expression.
It’s hard to write about Gogol Bordello without using words like “phenomenon.” A band that builds its career around fusing Roma folk and punk rock ought to be pretty well-insulated from commercial success, but thanks to their relentless touring, legendarily frenetic live performances, and a steady cult following (including such prominent media figures as Liev Schreiber and Madonna), they grew a substantial audience over the course of the past decade. Yet this popular acclaim hasn’t always added up to critical success. The band’s detractors have dismissed Gogol Bordello as “kitsch,” a gypsy minstrel show, or, worse, the musical equivalent of Yakov Smirnoff.
Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish, Gypsy, and/or tongues unknown – Manu Chao, Shane MacGowan, Joe Strummer? Eugene Hütz. And for album No. 5 from comrade Hütz's East European blackout – NYC's Gogol Bordello – comeback kid/producer Rick Rubin, American lama.
Welcome to the Eugene Hutz show, aka Gogol Bordello. Who else is in the band these days? I know Sergey (violin) is still around, as are the two women who offer up percussion and dancing at live shows, but does the once large band still exist? On Gogol’s latest release, Trans-Continental Hustle, it’s hard to tell. The album certainly contains various instruments, but from the album cover to the video for the first single, “Pala Tute”, it’s more and more clear that Hutz is the main man.