Gogol Bordello, ‘Pura Vida Conspiracy’ – Album Review
If you haven’t seen Gogol Bordello in concert, do yourself a favor and go. You’ll find a crowded stage of colorful characters playing self-proclaimed “gypsy punk,” fusing the sounds of frontman Eugene Hutz’s native Eastern Europe with the Western guitar rock of the working class.
The combination makes sense, as it brings together cultures that don’t have a firm place in mainstream society. The music celebrates life, survival and wanderlust, all with Hutz’s sharp wit and unabashed broken English.
That said, Gogol Bordello is arguably less successful on record. Despite their relative celebrity and cultural significance, they’ve yet to produce a canonized album, and they generally divide folks into two camps: devoted loyalists and casual, unengaged observers. One thing the albums have never been is boring, what with their punk production cues and abundance of sentiments like “think locally, f— globally.” Occasionally, you get something like ‘Through the Roof and Underground,’ a tune whose meaning endures and sticks with you.
In this context, their seventh LP, ‘Pura Vida Conspiracy,’ is problematic. In the past, it’s been easy to consider Gogol a novelty and thus cut them some slack, but not on this album. Hutz takes his music more seriously — not in the sense that he works harder, but rather that he drains the fun out of the project. ‘Rainbow’ asks that the listener ignore the broken-English flaw of “I’ve seen the other side of rainbow, and it was black and white” and try to gather meaning from the words.
The album swings from didactic (‘Amen’) to painfully sincere, as on the lyrically mind-numbing ‘Hieroglyph.’ It’d be one thing if opener ‘We Rise Again’ were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but talking in interviews about lines like “we rise again with a fist full of heart and a really cool future,” Hutz has made it clear he’s not joking around. He’s said the title refers to a literal conspiracy theory — a characteristic of either the paranoid or crazy. Hutz seems like neither, but he used to be a lot more fun.
Ultimately, the album’s best, ‘John the Conqueror,’ comes with some advice Hutz should take: “living and loving, everything else is insane.” That logic extends to the belief that the music of Gogol Bordello carries a transcendent message beyond mere entertainment. That thinking robs the band of the best thing it had going for it, resulting in an album that is as much of a drag as the reality Hutz paints.