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. Maybe it was his move to Sao Paolo and (my) perceived distance between band members or having Rick Rubin at the helm (not to mention a major label), but something is a bit off here. Unlike some fans, Rubin’s involvement (as well as Columbia’s) gave me much concern.
Trans-Continental Hustle was one of my more anticipated albums of 2010, and although it was released months ago it’s taken this long to decide whether I actually like it. After repeated listens, I find there are indeed a number of pluses: They finally recorded one of my favorite songs, the aforementioned “Pala Tute”, and there are some completely infectious pieces, such as “My Companjera” and “We Comin’ Rougher (Immigraniada)”, that I’d love to see live. “Sun is On My Side” starts out with some lush guitar work and then builds nicely into one of the strongest (and most unlike normal Gogol Bordello) songs on the album.
The finer moments on Trans-Continental Hustle seem somehow overshadowed by the rest of the album. While the musical chops are there, “Break the Spell” and its harping lyrics about gypsy life, such as “you love our music, but you hate our guts/ I know you still want me to ride on back of your bus” are grating at best. I understand Eugene’s desire to expose the world to gypsy music and culture, but I don’t know who he thinks he’s channeling on this one. Other songs, like “In the Meantime in Pernambuco” and “Uma Menina Uma Cigana” seem desperate to integrate the music of Eugene’s adopted home in to the gypsy-punk sound, but it’s just not coming together.
It seems that no matter how good or bad a Gogol Bordello studio recording is, the live show is still the time and place to experience this band. While Trans-Continental Hustle isn’t exactly a disappointment, it isn’t the thoroughly solid album it could (and should have) been. Dig deeper into the band’s back catalog – especially the lesser known Multi Kontra Culti for your Gogol fix – take this recent release at face value, and eagerly await the band’s next whirlwind through town.