[11 July 2007]
Arriving with a weight of expectation that was not afforded to any of their previous releases, Super Taranta!, the latest record from Eugene Hutz and his multicoloured, ragged troupe of gypsy punks, sounds at once instantly familiar and quite unlike anything you’ll hear this year. Based in New York but blowing in from anywhere, via Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Florida, and Scotland, Gogol Bordello might not have quite broken into the worldwide charts last year, but a bit of radio airplay here and there, some sweaty, swelling live shows, and a handful of festival stealing appearances, saw their moustached cultural revolution pick up considerable momentum. Certainly not since The Pogues staggered, smashed, and broke hearts all over the world, has a band taken the spirit of their traditional folk music and whipped it up into such a ferociously exciting storm.
Super Taranta! sees no let up, or easing off the tested Gogol formula of theatrical immigrant eastern punk and, in truth, it’s even more of a slap in the face than Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. It might be a shame to lose some of that record’s occasional forays into dub and hip-hop, but it does mean that even at fourteen tracks, Super Taranta! is a lean, formidable beast of a party album. Things kick off with “Ultimate”, surely the most immediate blast of the Gogol Bordello sound possible, swaying and thrashing as Hutz slips between languages, ranting that “There were never any good old days / They are today, they are tomorrow”. It’s brilliant and, along with the paean to Hutz’s life on the run, “Wonderlust King”, with its almost sing-a-long pop chorus, and the gridlocked Manhattan cool of “Zina Maria”, adds to an exhilarating opening trio of songs.
It’s also apparent straight away that Eugene Hutz remains one of the most fantastically mentalist frontmen in rock and roll. More like the ringleader of an unruly circus that a vocalist, he rants and raves with manic conviction, even when the broken, tumbling words don’t actually seem to be making any sense. And while his manifesto doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years, his targets of conformity and oppression are still attacked with relentless vigour and humour, though it is perhaps difficult to imagine the chorus of “Supertheory of Supereverything” with its wonderful “I don’t read the bible / I don’t trust disciples” refrain raising too much of a smile in certain parts of Alabama. Even better than that is the absurdly hilarious culture clash of “American Wedding”. It finds a bemused sounding Hutz bemoaning the lack of marinated herring and vodka at a sterile American wedding, where all the guests have to be up early the next morning and party is over by 1am. To be fair, the debauched 24-hour bender that constitutes Hutz’s idea of a wedding does sound like a hell of a lot more fun.
As might be expected after some two years of touring their last record into the ground, there’s a tightness to the band this time out (though thankfully, Gogol could never be accused of being polished). Certainly though, a muscular musicality informs the lurching folk whirlwind of the title track “Super Taranta!” and the Sandinista-era-Clash groove of “Tribal Connection”, that goes far beyond the reach of most meat and potatoes punk bands. Of course to Western ears, these manic ballads in A minor can seem similar, but with repeated listens Super Taranta! reveals its surprising attention to detail. Subtleties like the spaghetti western guitar on “Alcohol”, or the dazzlingly frenetic accordion and violin interplay of the title track, mean that even without the sight of the band writhing and dancing and Hutz flailing like a dervish all over the stage, the energy of the music never flags.
In its scope and sound, Super Taranta! might not represent a radical departure for Hutz and co., but the songs here have been refined and beaten into shape so that, taken one after the other, the cumulative effect is as thrilling as a sledgehammer round the head. Never relaxing or particularly thoughtful, the album is such an insanely enjoyable, breathless affair, that trying to pick faults is somewhat futile. Alongside Gogol’s politics has always been the simple rallying call to have a gypsy-style damn good time, and Super Taranta! is, at heart, a riotous, utterly bonkers, brilliant party album from one of the world’s greatest dance bands. What more could you want?