On ‘We Rise Again’, the typically lively opener on Gogol Bordello‘s new album “Pura Vida Conspiracy”, we are told that they “still believe in the Philosopher’s Stone”. This mythical substance is purported to be able to turn base metals into gold and, perhaps more importantly, is sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, with rejuvenating powers and possibly providing immortality.
Gogol Bordello have never seemed to me to be a band in need of rejuvenation, the one thing you could always say about their music being that it was spirited and vigourous. I don’t own any of their previous half-a-dozen albums, but cuts I know like ‘Not A Crime’ and ‘Start Wearing Purple’ are filled to the brim with a devilish energy. The dynamite strapped to the heart of this New York gypsy-punk explosion is of course vocalist Eugene Hutz, boggled-eyed, bewhiskered and always in your face, and it is perhaps Hutz who has both drawn me in and repelled me in equal measure in my previous exposure to the band. A little of him goes a long, long way. It’s fair to say that if you don’t like him and his totally committed piratical persona then you won’t like their music. Frequently, the lyrics in “Pura Vida Conspiracy” are written in the first person, with almost every song dotted with the word “I”, adding to the sense that this is a one man show of almost claustrophobic proportions. It’s like being stuck in a very small circus tent with a manic, philosophising clown!
Hutz, as ever, has a lot to say and on this album themes of reconnecting with your roots, gaining strength from your past experiences and, of course, defiant resilience, the staple of so much folk music. The aforementioned opener ‘We Rise Again’ is a typical case in point, being a rousing, bewildering mix of sunny folk, blazing fiddles, African chants and harsh eastern European punky bits. It is hard to get a handle on this mish mash at first, but in a similar way to the music of Manu Chao, the skill of the musicians in creating such a convincing and heady stew of noise is often breathtaking.
My personal favourite is ‘Malandrino’ (which translates as rogue or rascal), a cute Mariachi-style romp with the usual musings upon fate and destiny on which Hutz realises “I have to keep my heart singing”. Also worth your attention is the unpromisingly titled ‘Gypsy Auto Pilot’, where Hutz comes face-to-face with his past and realises the world he has created for the rock n’roll gypsy is in danger of losing it’s meaning if he cannot keep his friends.
If you give this album the time the lyrics will reveal themselves to be intelligent and heartfelt (although sometimes they do descend into dime-store philosophy claptrap), and the music to be a dizzying array of all the most upbeat and thrillingly bonkers world music you can imagine.
Despite the occasionally overbearing presence of it’s chief architect this album has really grown on me – like a flamboyantly waxed moustache! There really isn’t anyone else quite like Gogol Bordello. Play “Pura Vida Conspiracy” while the sun is shining and in the company of your very best friends.