Review by John Noblet
It would be impossible to write this review without a full disclosure. Seven years ago I heard the song ‘Wanderlust King’ by Gogol Bordello and it completely changed my life.
Not only did the album it came from (Super Taranta) have a massive effect on the music I make and the band I would eventually form, but I related to the lyrics and energy of the band with an intensity usually reserved for thirteen year olds discovering Nirvana.
The restless energy, the sense of intoxicated romance, the rejection of modern civilisation’s promise of safety. Yep, I bored the hell out of my friends with that one for a few years.
However, there are some that see Eugene Hutz and his gang of merry pranksters as the music industry’s equivalent of the twats who dress up in bowler hats with twirly moustaches to sell ridiculously overpriced crepes at boutique festivals; a point of view which has not been helped by the band performing with Madonna or releasing a song with Coca Cola’s name on it for the European Cup in 2012. Nor has it been helped by Hutz’s slightly embarrassing habit of sprouting pseudo mystical gibberish in interviews.
“So Johnny,” I hear you ask. “What’s Pura Vida Conspiracy like?”
The short answer is that those who are already fans of Gogol Bordello will probably find a lot of stuff to enjoy. Opener ‘We Rise Again’ finds the band in rambunctious form, with a country style backbeat giving way to pounding hardcore drums, and some nice political touches in the lyrics, including “Borders are scars across the face of the planet.”
‘Dig Deep Enough’ also kicks out the jams pretty hard with its NOFX versus the Gypsy Kings sense of aesthetics, though does middle aged Euguene Hutz actually sing the words “We are the youth”?!
And despite the most open invitation for a critical mauling in a song title since Hole released a track called ’Awful’, ‘My Gypsy Autopilot’ certainly brings home the goods. I suspect it’ll make a great addition to their live sets.
However, I don’t think Pura Vida Conspiracy will convert many of the bands’ detractors either. There’s a nagging sense on some of the tracks that Hutz is trying to give the fans what they want (“needs more gypsy!”) rather than singing from the gut.
This seems particularly true of ‘Malandrino’ which opens with the midwives who have just delivered the infant Hutz gasping in wonder at his “singing heart”. Even for a fan, this sentimental self mythologising is a little rich. On the track ‘Hieroglyph’, the band get dangerously close to writing the gypsy punk equivalent of R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ with lyrics like “I am inside of every tree, I am inside of every atom”.
Some of Pura Vida Conspiracy‘s ballads work really well, and even bring in new influences to the band’s sound. For instance, closing track ‘We Shall Sail’ is Hutz’s remarkably effective take on a campfire song with his eccentric vocal phrasing suiting the form entirely. ‘Name Your Ship’ seems to take influence form the likes of Dropkick Murphys, with a cheeky but welcome steal from the chorus of Nick Cave’s ‘Supernaturally’.
In conclusion, though I’d probably rather listen to Pura Vida Conspiracy than many of the other albums released this year, I don’t think it quite hits the same incredibly high standards of Gogol Bordello’s best releases.
Doubtless their live show will still be world beating, and will probably still convert fans with every gig they play.
Where I will still be at the front of one of them the first chance I get, singing and dancing and sweating with my shirt off.
Pura Vida Conspiracy is out on general release from today – Tues 23rd July.
For more info on Gogol Bordello, including digital downloads of Pura Vida Conspiracy and a free copy of ‘Malandrino’, visit http://www.gogolbordello.com/