Gogol Bordello: Pura Vida Conspiracy (ATO Records)
Manhattan gypsy punks Gogol Bordello are back with a new album – Pura Vida Conspiracy (named after a Central American philosophy of the life worth living) – and as one would expect it’s a rollercoaster distillation of musical styles from all over the world.
While the album doesn’t break a lot of new ground, (fans of the Gogol’s will love it, but it won’t win many converts among the unimpressed) – there are signs of the latin American influences hinted at in the title and also some country stylings which set it apart from its predecessors.
Elsewhere it’s like a game of guess what kind of music we’ve been listening to this week – a dash of Balkan violin here, some klezmer there, a little mariachi, the Pearl & Dean cinema intro music, a faint echo of Jaques Brel? You’d need an encyclopaedic knowledge of world music to pick up on every nuance and magpie borrowing in the bands eclectic repertoire and in truth none of the above may have been intended by the band themselves. Every listener will hear something different in the collage.
Lyrically the songs are ostensibly political but this is a smokescreen. There are vague references to ‘the way to freedom’ and ‘the time for a change’ and there are rabble rousers and marching songs and soldiers laments but the truth is that these are songs from an imaginary revolution that nobody wants or expects to happen – full of imposing sounding statements that don’t really mean much but which provide a great hook on which to hang some fine and enthusiastic playing and singing.
According to their mission statement (available in barely legible pencil on a scrunched up piece of paper on their website and full of glorious deliberate spelling mistakes and grammatical errors of the kind which also litter this album) the purpose of the band is to ‘confront the jaded and irony deseased’ of the world with a mixture of ‘music, theatre, chaos and sorcery’ and that’s pretty much sums the album up – it’s a riot of exuberant playing and singing that puts one in mind of the Pogues or The Levellers or even The Felice Brothers – all at their most boisterous and slightly intoxicated.
The opening track We Rise Again sets the tone for the album – exhorting the listener to rejoin an unidentified fight ‘with a fistful of heart and a relical future’- (hinting that the revolution will be co authored by Nigel Molesworth), while Dig Deep Enough is a song to be sung around a fire in an oil drum during the night after a successful battle. Elsewhere there are wistful ballads of home and childhood, hymns to fate and to cultural imperatives and every so often the vocal switches to other languages which give the songs an appealing (and probably spurious) air of mystery of profundity.
No one is taking themselves too seriously. After all Gogol Bordello are the band whose Amazon autobiography contains the diary note – ‘Banned from CBGB, Mercury Lounge, Fez and Bowery Ballroom immediately after first performances for being too over the mothefucking top…’
There are lots of good jokes, impassioned verses and foot stomping choruses – this is music which even the most resolutely chair bound will find it hard not to tap a toe to and all in all what the album goes to confirm that if the revolution ever does happen it will have great tunes, some luxuriant facial hair and a lot of energetic dancing.
Although the band claim to be postmodern, irony free and real, one gets the feeling a lot of the time that one is being roped into participating in an enormous con trick – that the accents may be fake (or at least heavily overplayed), the strange syntax and vocabulary deliberate, the moustaches may be stuck on with glue and the non English choruses may be gibberish. My favourite of these is rendered on one internet lyric site as follows –
Is it because I am Russian?
Is it because you are not?
Oppa snova puta madre vyso naoborot.
Now even I can see some errors there and there and it looks like there might be some vulgarity about your mother’s new bits involved, but overall the meaning doesn’t matter – it sounds great.
Which is a fair summary of the album.
All words by idp. More work by idp on Louder Than War can be found here.