Gogol Bordello - Pura Vida Conspiracy

by Bob Coyne Rating:8 Release Date:2013-07-22

It's hard not to be fond of Gogol Bordello (even if that fondness is based only on a vague knowledge of 'Start Wearing Purple', or distant festival memories), and once again they've put out an album of musical and intellectual integrity, while retaining their unique Gogol Bordello-ness. Granted, the worth of Pura Vida Conspiracy may not be obvious on the first hearing as, going on previous albums, there don't seem as many initial smack-you-in-the-mouth-wow moments, but let's face it - Gogol Bordello are easily one of the most fun and engaging live bands (constantly) on the circuit, so anything less than über-fun straight out of the gates was going to leave me feeling a little cold. But first impressions aren't all they're cracked up to be. On this occasion, I find myself growing ever fonder with each listen.

Not as 'punky' on the whole as previous efforts, Pura Vida Conspiracy has a much more reflective, personal energy. Although I'm sure the majority of the songs are fictional, there is a sense of deep understanding which underpins everything Eugene Hütz writes. The transient nature of his own journey to New York must have furnished him with a wealth of experiences, which not only show themselves in his sympathetic writings, but also in the variety of cultural influences which pervade the band's own sound.

Listening to any Gogol Bordello album automatically transports you to distant lands - and this one's no exception. There are the obvious Eastern Bloc references, but this album has a clear American native ambience. 'Malandrino' eludes to a mariachi base, while 'John the Conqueror' and 'We Shall Sail' have a distinctly cowboy vibe; the former a hoedown, the latter a lullaby. The influence of American [musical] culture on this album is far more apparent, not least in Hütz's accent on 'We Shall Sail'.

The underlying themes of freedom and borders, or travel and experience, lay testament to Hütz's ability to weave messages into his music without being preachy. His profound and simple logic is still encompassed by passionate musical threads, only this time the subtleties may in fact be the album's greatest strength. On the sea shanty 'Name Your Ship' he sings: "You taught your parrot to stutter/ Now you repeat his own chatter/ But it is the way you name your ship/ that's the way it's going to row." The there's the affirming 'Rainbow': "I've seen the other side of rainbow/ and it was black and white/ The way to freedom … I used to know/ is in the deeper … knowing of my soul." (But seriously - did anyone else hear the Ewoks' theme in there?!)

'Gypsy Auto Pilot' and 'Heiroglyph' perhaps constitute the weaker moments of the album, although both still have their merits, and, you know, each to their own. Nothing falls flat - quite the opposite. The vigour and openness with which Gogol Bordello deliver themselves is as abundant as in any of their previous studio albums.

While retaining the elements that make Gogol Bordello the stand-out band they already are, they have somehow managed to expand on that paradigm without losing face. (The System of a Down-esque hidden track - while possibly not to everyone's taste - also attests to this, although it's hard to know if it's a hint at what may be to come, or just a brain-fart.)The more I listen to this album, the more I think it may actually be their best yet.

 

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