Vital eighth album from New York’s multi-national Gypsy Punk ensemble, Gogol Bordello.
Release Date: 16th September 2022
Label: Cooking Vinyl
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download, Streaming
The far-reaching influence of Gogol Bordello, New York’s multi-national Gypsy Punk ensemble, can’t be easily underestimated. In the 20+ years of their existence, the band has pioneered the incorporation of Romani music into western styles and, in the process, has come up with their own unique and instantly-recognisable formula of Gypsy Punk. They’ve also been a huge factor in raising western awareness of the tribulations suffered over the years in the lands that lie between the dominant territories of Germany and Russia, notably by their input to the 2005 movie, Everything is Illuminated. They’ve even provided a song for a Coca-Cola advertising campaign!
Of course, we’re all aware of the latest tribulation to be suffered by an eastern European nation, and the conflict in Ukraine – homeland of Gogol’s frontman Eugene Hutz – is the theme that permeates Solidaritine, the latest offering from Gogol Bordello.
Gogol Bordello will, I imagine, be a familiar name to the majority of At The Barrier visitors. The band formed in 1999 in Lower East Side Manhattan and Solidaritine is their eighth album in a recording career that started with the release of Voi-La Intruder in 1999 and which most recently drew our attention via 2019’s magnificent Seekers and Finders album. And, alongside a string of incredible albums, Gogol Bordello has established a formidable reputation as a dramatic, theatrical live act. I’m sure that anyone who was at Cropredy Festival on the evening of Thursday 8th August 2019 will have vivid memories of the impact that the New Yorkers brought to rural north Oxfordshire!
Gogol Bordello is a truly international outfit, with members who have origins in Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia and Ecuador, as well as the Good ol’ USA. Some twenty members have passed through the band’s ranks since their formation; the current lineup comprises the aforementioned Eugene Hutz on lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, piano, keyboards and percussion, Sergey Ryabtsev on violin, Pasha Newmer on accordion, Thomas Gobena on bass, Boris Pelekh on electric and acoustic guitars, Alfredo Ortiz on drums and percussion, Pedro Erazo-Segovia on vocals, percussion and charango (a type of Andean lute) and Pamela Racine and Vanessa Walters on backing vocals.
Solidaritine is a mixture of tunes that were originally recorded for the Seekers And Finders album – but were, perhaps, a little too punky to fit into that album’s general feel – plus a bunch of new songs. Solidaritine developed a whole new dimension during the period of its evolution, following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine – an event which, says Eugene, gave the songs an entire new relevance and power.
Eugene continues: “This is music of survival and perseverance. That’s always been our main driving force. We want to give the world a timeless album with messages of human potential and power. Rock ‘n’ roll comes out of a real place. Take a group of people who have endured immigrant traumas and dislocation. They create music, get successful together, become more baroque and experimental, and experience some years of relative calm. All of a sudden, humankind encounters these problems like the pandemic and the war. This is when rock ‘n’ roll is the most necessary and when we perform the best.”
Potential, power and the necessary urgency of rock ‘n’ roll are all here in spadefuls. Solidaritine is a 13-track feast of full-power, full-speed Gypsy Punk. You won’t make out all (or many of) the lyrics, but Eugene’s messages come over loud and clear, behind a barrage of punky guitars, gypsy violin, accordion and a relentless drum rhythm. Solidaritine is Gogol Bordello firing with both barrels!
Opening track, Shot Of Solidaritine lets us all know what we’re in for. It’s a typically showy Gogol number, solid New York punk infused with eastern-European melodies. Eugene screams the lyrics, which decry Russian expectations of an early victory for their invasion; it’s determined, yet joyful – in an almost fairground-ish kind of way. Focus Coin is the album’s lead single and an early album highlight. The feel would be 60s Haight-Ashbury, if it wasn’t for Eugene’s rapid-fire lyrical delivery and the wonderful, confident, punky guitar lines. And the refrain of “Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie (etc)” is the perfect summary of the bullshit that seems to pervade every message we receive from our respective leaders…
Gogol delivers their cover of Fugazi’s ‘post-hardcore classic,’ Blueprint, as a folky Balkan stomp, and it’s great fun. I’m certain that Blueprint is destined to become a live favourite, and I particularly love the slithery violin licks. H.R., (Paul, to his mother), leader of Washington DC punk outfit, Bad Brains, lends a hand on Era at the End of Eras, a gritty rhythmic shuffle with some delightfully folky violin interludes, and the blend of punk and folk continues into the excellent I’m Coming Out, a song in which the punk intensity of the verses is counteracted by the folky sophistication of the “I’m coming out, before I drown” chorus.
Knack For Life is another excellent track – heavy on the percussion, with a funky undercurrent, it’s Gypsy Jazz, Jim, but perhaps not as we know it. It’s brash without being punk and it’s a tune that melts down and remoulds a whole range of genres. The Great Hunt of Idiot Savant is Cossack Punk at its very best – maybe what the Sex Pistols would have sounded like if they’d been formed in Kiev instead of Chelsea – with added acoustic guitar and accordion, whilst Take Only What You Can Carry is almost poppy. Eugene and Pamela share the vocals over a backing of hugely distorted guitars and some soaring electric guitar soloing.
Pop and grunge form an alliance for My Imaginary Son before some amazing, scatty acoustic guitar provides the introduction to Forces of Victory, another dose of fantastic Balkan Punk, laced with more of Sergey’s wonderful violin. The song is a re-recording of a track that first appeared on Super Taranta! – Gogol Bordello’s fourth album from 2007. The song’s lyrics have been overhauled with help from Ukrainian poet and novelist Serhiy Zhadan and, whilst they’re not easily discernable (or understandable to non-Ukrainian speakers) the passion of Eugene’s delivery leaves the listener in no doubt: this is an anthem in waiting, for the day when the Ukraine conflict is finally and correctly resolved.
In the unlikely event that this heavy dose of Gypsy Punk is beginning to wane, the lovely, accessible Fire on the Ice Floe offers a refreshing taste of reggae. Gypsy Reggae? Call it that if you like – it’s great fun, whatever, and it’s another guaranteed live audience pleaser. Gut Guidance is another of the album’s more accessible tracks – folky, with violins galore, acoustic guitars and some glorious backing vocals from the ladies.
Which brings us to the delirious Heckleberry Generation, the album’s closing track. And what a closer it is – a full-on assault of electric guitars (including some wonderfully intricate soloing), peppered with accordion and fiddle, whilst Eugene spits out the vocals like a demented reptile. It’s a great demonstration of what happens when Gogol Bordello turns on all the taps and turns the hoses on the audience.
If you like Gogol Bordello, you’ll LOVE Solidaritine!