A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 17, 2007
If The Pogues were Ukrainian — if The Clash had been raised in a Gypsy caravan — if Brave Combo had a New York snarl — then they might be Gogol Bordello, whose latest album, Super Taranta!, is a lusty, vodka-fueled stomp.
GB is a nine-member, New York-based band led by singer Eugene Hütz, whose family fled Ukraine in the 1980s, after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. He ended up in New York City in the early ’90s and founded a band that specializes in a sound he calls “Gypsy punk.”
Comparisons to The Pogues are frequent and on the mark. Hütz and his crew — an international cabal that includes members of various nationalities and instruments including accordion and fiddle — do for Eastern European music what Shane MacGowan and his merry men did for Irish drinking songs.
And like The Pogues, Gogol doesn’t limit himself to a single ethnic influence in his music. Super Taranta! not only has the band’s trademark Gypsy craziness, but also delves into dub reggae (in the Clash-like “Dub the Frequencies of Love”) and Italian music. I almost want Francis Ford Coppola to make another Godfather sequel, just so he could include a wedding scene with GB’s “Harem in Tuscany (Taranta)”.
Gogol is known primarily as a wild party band, and many of its partisans swear you’ve got to see the group live before you really can claim you’re a fan. That might be true. But there’s plenty on this album (and albums past) for we uninitiated to love.
Hütz is not only a crazed performer but a good songwriter as well. He’s got a philosophical bent. For example, on “Supertheory of Supereverything,” he meditates on religion. With a chorus of “I don’t read the Bible/I don’t trust disciples,” this song can be seen as an Eastern European take on “It Ain’t Necessarily So” — the Porgy and Bess tune that opened a whole new world of skepticism to me when I heard Cab Calloway sing it as a child.
Hütz also got a great sense of humor. “American Wedding” is a sardonic look at a culture that he finds repressed. Starting out with a riff from Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Hütz spits, “Have you ever been to American wedding? Where’s the vodka, where’s the marinated herring? ... Everybody’s full of cake staring at the floor. ... People got to get up early, yes, they’ve got to go.” And worst yet, “Nobody talks about my Supertheory of Supereverything.”
More recommended rock from around the world
*Best of Go!Go! by Go!Go! 7188. This is the latest Japanese girl-punk group to emerge on the great Japanese girl-punk label Benten. The trio has been around for nearly 10 years and have released right albums before this “greatest hits” collection.
Go!Go!7188 isn’t quite as harsh and aggressive as many of the Benten groups, like Mummy the Peepshow or (my current favorite) Lolita No. 18. In fact, some of the more power-poppy songs here might even be compared with the Go-Gos. This is especially true of most the earlier cuts on the record.
But don’t think they don’t rock. Tunes like “Thunder Girl” and “Jet Ninjin” are fine basic guitar/bass/drums throw-downs. “Otona No Kusuri” starts out with a bass riff that sounds almost like the band is going to go into a hopped-up version of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman.” That’s followed by “Otona No Himitsu,” a mad pogo-polka.
*6 Mighty Shots by various artists from the Bang! Bang! Recording Organization. From Nancy, France, and London comes a promising new label that’s released this dandy sampler.
The Bang! Bang! gang apparently is led by King Automatic, who also records on the Swiss Voodoo Rhythm label. He’s billed as a one-man garage band, playing organ, drums, harmonica, and who knows what else — all at the same time.
But just because he’s a one-man band doesn’t mean he’s a hermit. He’s on every cut here (including his own Yardbirdsy “My Shark”) except for one by another one-man band, Monsieur Verdun. That’s a banjo-driven stomper called “Blind Man With a Pistol.”
There’s some cool Nuggets-style fun with “I Got Something for You Girl” by a band called Hot Nuts (no, it’s not the same band as Doug Clark’s classic dirty-minded frat/soul crew) and Thundercrack’s “This Town Belongs to Me,” which features a strangled, Standells-like fuzz-guitar hook and tortured vocals.
Perhaps my favorite mighty shot is a sweet lo-fi sleaze ballad called “Nothing Works,” by British singer Rich Deluxe.
Automatic, Verdun, and Deluxe team up under the name of The Bang! Bang! Organization for a banjo/organ/guitar dirge called “Stay Drunk.”
All in all, an impressive collection.
*In the Blood by Robert Mirabal. Here’s some “world music” from right here in New Mexico. This is the first album in four years from Taos Pueblo’s Mirabal, the most acclaimed Native American musician from the state, and, come to think of it, one of the most prominent in the world.
I’m not sure why, but nearly half of the songs on this album have appeared on previous Mirabal works. Some, like “The Dance,” “Medicine Man,” and “Little Indians” have been on at least two previous albums.
Several tunes are just too synthy and adult contemporary for my peculiar tastes. But I love “Indian Johnny,” which starts with a shotgun blast and is carried by some fine, raunchy guitar by Larry Mitchell.
And “Theo’s Dream,” which also appeared on Mirabal’s underrated 2003 album Indians Indians, is a moving tale of a relative forever changed by the Vietnam War.
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