Gogol Bordello, “Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike” (2005)

Pomp and circumstance, ruckus and rumpus, furore and farrago. Usually a one-trick pony is, y’know, only good for that one trick, but in the case of these guys they straddle that weirdly fine line between aforementioned pony and just being pros at their specialist subject. Nobody complains that the Beatles (mostly) just wrote pop songs, right?

This is an album that moves with the restlessness of a speed freak running to make the dole queue (it also evokes brazenly outdated 90’s metaphorical linchpins such as speed freaks, and dole queues). Opener “Sally” lines the stomach nicely, telling a loose story of a young girl falling in with a group of gypsies, before ruminating on the nature of global action. A lot of the album does that; it’s very interested in pouches of global movements and the way culture spreads outwards like something airborne, bolstering those it comes into contact with.

For example, between the title track and mid-album banger “Start Wearing Purple”, I am, due to a recently completed politics degree (not as) qualified (as I would like to think) to tell you that it’s basically a lesson in poststructuralist and cultural theory that wouldn’t be out of place in a discussion in one of my seminars (that I rarely attended).

It’s, basically, an intelligent album, about cultural self-determination and constructs of identity, heritage, and minority status in a globalised world that also sounds like it was recorded inside a bin behind a kebab house (I challenge anyone who doesn’t take that as an endorsement). This absolutely ramshackle feel to it is evident in the overriding musical structure/style, which is a raucous blend of old school balalaika-esque Eastern European folk, bolstered by lashings of old-school punk, the odd hard-rock riff, a dash of spoken word, lyrics sung in Russian. It combines too many elements to have not been the product of a concerted effort; likewise, it’s so dense that sometimes it feels like it’s overstuffed (but criticising this album for being too busy would be like criticising a doughnut for having too much sugar).

It’s also not that intelligent; the song “Not A Crime” , with the refrain “In the old time, in the old time/in the old time it was not a crime”, is gleefully indefensible, ideologically speaking, though there’s room for a subversive interpretation; equally it could just be them fucking with us. But this is all part of the album’s messy, sprawling charm. It’s over an hour long and, even after a year of returning to it periodically, some songs tend to blur into one another. It has very little flow or structure as an album, but as a collection of songs it works just fine. There’s just enough diversity to sustain it, though I’m thankful for Eugene Hutz’s snarling, proudly accented vocals at the core of the songs. He is a dazzling frontman and his presence brings just enough chutzpah to tie the whole thing together.

If you like your music to sizzle like a saucepan full of bangers, you could do worse in this cold cold month. Come and warm your hands by their politically conscious, world-music tinged fire.

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