Review Summary: Super Taranta! is easily the group’s most accomplished effort to date “It’s pretty much a scientific fact that we’re totally responsible for starting the whole [gypsy] trend. I am pretty much credited for that by every jury that there ever was… I cannot be challenged about it. It’s like challenging Charlie Chaplin with silent movies. Of course there were silent movies before Charlie Chaplin, but he’s the one who made it work.”
- Eugene Hutz.
”But is it really cocky if you know that it’s true?”
- Justin Timberlake.
Well, yeah, but does it really matter? Over the past two years or so, Hutz, frontman of self-styled “gypsy punks” Gogol Bordello, has become the figurehead of a craze for everything Eastern Europe, representing perhaps the single greatest threat to American hegemony from the East since Ivan Drago. Their 2005 release Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike
was a shot in the arm for a disinterested popular punk scene and while their fun-loving ethos and use of traditional instruments has invited comparisons with labelmates Flogging Molly and the original folk-punks, The Pogues, Gogol Bordello’s influences are less conservative and more far-flung than either (though all three share a love of subversive literature); punk, metal, ska and dub are melded with various forms of European folk music- oom-pah, Carpathian Romani and flamenco chief among them- for a sound that’s at once familiar and completely their own.
With Super Taranta!
, the band appears keenly aware that their circumstances have changed, and that in order to avoid the derisory “novelty act” tag, their sound needs to continue evolving. The album’s title is derived from ‘tarantella,’ a medieval dance style popular in the poorer, southern part of Italy. Cheerily enough, it shares much the same instrumental set as their own music: accordion and mandolin (acoustic guitar here) feature prominently, while guitarist Oren Kaplin’s spaghetti western electric leads add a more modern touch, blending seamlessly with the dub-flavoured beats and programming. ‘Dub The Frequencies Of Love’ is the most successful example of this marriage, boasting a sophisticated violin melody (courtesy of virtuoso Sergey Rjabtzev), which could easily be placed in the backdrop of a Godfather
film, and complimentary Morricone-inspired guitar lines.
Despite the appeal and smart integration of these new influences, however, it does feel as if a certain aspect of the band’s sound has been streamlined. The classic punk influence is curiously downplayed: there’s no discomforting screeching (Gypsy Punk
’s ‘I Never Wanna Be Young Again’), no anti-melodic vocalisms (‘Immigrant Punk’) and generally no intentional ugliness or dissonance- a contrast in the band’s music the importance of which has perhaps been underplayed in the past. So too have Eugene’s overt political postures been toned down, or at least been polished and re-presented in more thoughtful form: slogans like “Think locally, fuck globally”
and “In the old times, it [smoking pot] was not a crime”
have been replaced by fully-formed sentences- or even paragraphs. The concept of nationalism is playfully challenged with ‘Your Country’’s chorus call: “Your country raised you, your country fed you, and just like any other country it will break you.”
; and ‘Dub The Frequencies Of Love’ raises the question: “how come everything they taught us turned out to be so damn wrong?”
While Gogol Bordello’s drift towards a more melodic, less abrasive form isn’t 100% convincing, oftentimes the melodies are so good it’s not worth mourning the loss of their punk edge. The album opens with a trio of sure-fire anthems: ‘Ultimate’ is surprisingly subdued to begin, starting as a slow gypsy two-step, before breaking into a frenetic gallop with punchy rhythms that are probably influenced as much by thrash metal as much as they are the flamenco sound with which they’re furnished; ‘Wonderlust King’’s chorus is little more than a flurry of “da”s and “oh”s, but may just be the catchiest on the album; and ‘Zina-Marina’ is probably the funkiest take on the horrors of sex-slavery that's ever likely to be recorded. ‘American Wedding’ and ‘Harem In Tuscany’ continue the tendency towards crazed, wordless choruses, the latter cleverly repeating the word ‘taranta’ over and over to create a galloping effect, and the slow-burning lament 'Tribal Connections' calls to mind the vocal styles of Shane MacGowan.
As always, Gogol Bordello are at their best at their most absurd. Eugene Hutz’s peculiar worldview is summed up with ‘Supertheory Of Supereverything,’ his brave attempt to sum up his beliefs in under three minutes; playing up to the clownish stereotype, Hutz intentionally mixes up the opening line, announcing: “the first time I have read the Bible it had stroke me as unwitty / I think it may started rumour that the Lord ain’t got no humour.”
‘American Wedding’ is the sequel to Gypsy Punk
’s ‘Dogs Were Barking,’ using a traditional Romani wedding dance to poke fun at the banality of American ceremonies, opening with the half-joking question, “have you ever been to American wedding? Where is vodka? Where is marinated haddock?”
while closer ‘Super Taranta!’ picks up where ‘Supertheory’ left off with the line, “the second time I read the Bible I am thinking it’s alright…”
At over an hour, Super Taranta!
plays slightly too long, becoming laborious towards the finish not through a lack of quality material but because certain songs appear to be stretched out a little further than is advisable (‘Forces Of Victory,’ ‘My Strange Uncles From Abroad’) and because a couple of slower songs (‘Alcohol,’ ‘Tribal Connection’) slow the album’s momentum somewhat. Nevertheless, Super Taranta!
is easily the group’s most accomplished effort to date, and an exciting prospect of things to come.
Full album stream: http://myspace.com/gogolbordello