Album Review: Gogol Bordello – Solidaratine (Reviewed By Me, Big G)

Gonzo Turbo Bonanzatroinic Party Party!  If you have heard these words before you may be all over Gogol Bordello’s new album, Solidaritine.  If you have no clue what I’m talking about… time to join the Underdog World Strike.  The eighth album from the international Gypsy Punk band is out now, and oaft…they’re pissed aff.

Gogol Bordello have been doing the high energy, politically charged, gypsy punk thing for over twenty years now, is it old yet? Not at all.  This album doesn’t sound like anything they’ve released before.  Which is very impressive considering they re-recorded 2007’s “Forces of Victory” for it.  So how is it different?  Well, Tommy T isn’t playing bass on it.  Ok he is, but only on three tracks…and he’s only played on their four albums since 2007…but the Ethiopian born groove hacker is an idol of mine so I’m a bit miffed to see his unannounced and unexplained absence from the band.  Gill Alexandre plays on the rest of the album and whoever you are Gill, best of luck.  You have big shoes to fill.  Bass based mysteries aside this album is so fresh it came with a little bit of dirt still on it.

This is an album of contrasts.  The tracks are built around dynamic changes and sudden changes in direction.  Both within the songs and between them.  Let’s take track 9 “My imaginary Son”.  The song starts simply enough, with a bouncy pizzicato fiddle over an easy syncopated guitar, the bass and drums fall in after two bars with the same relaxed vibe.  Is it groovy? Absolutely, but so far this is the pina colada on a deck chair track.  Until the chorus nation attacks.  At which point the guitars are being thrashed and the drummer remembered he loves Anthrax actually.  What I like though is that it isn’t just a punk song with a slow intro, it falls in and out of both throughout the piece.  It isn’t just one or the other, it’s both at the same time somehow skirting around the middle ground.  

To pick a contrast to “My Imaginary Son” I’ll direct you to track five “I’m Coming Out”.  Not a Diana Ross cover…leave it.  This is the track that reminds you the “Gypsy” in “Gypsy Punk” comes from Gypsy Jazz.  Musically anyway, singer and lyricist Eugene Hutz is from Ukrainian Romani so we’re talking real deal gypsy music heritage.  This song has the walking bassline, the Django-esque melodic runs, and the swinging jazz fiddle.  All pumped up and played with the heavy hands of a people who are simply over that 2022 life.  Or, to put it as they do, people “Living the dream straight out of Zombie Lifestyle Magazine”.

The lyrics are a highlight of this album as well.  Hutz has always had the punk poet thing going on.  How appropriate then that one of my favourite tracks on “Solidaritine” is adapted from Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan’s “Take Only That Which Is Most Important”.  Which on this album is translated as “Take Only What You Can Carry” for the title.  I think Zhadan approves the translation, he’s a guest vocalist on the track after all.  This is a song I found myself really jamming out to the first time I heard it, but is that the most important thing here?  When the lyrics read “Take only that which you can carry, to the city of refugees” and “We’re gonna run with the dogs, we’re gonna rest with the cows, scooping water with out bare hands”.  It’s a strange thing, I think, when art is so serious but so enjoyable.  This is a poem written by a Ukrainian in 2015 that’s probably more relevant now than when he wrote it.  Although granted what is happening now was in motion then.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it as a song or think no one else should enjoy it unless they understand what it is.  It’s just something unique to music.  People can look at Picasso’s Guernica and be moved by it without showing joy.  People can watch Jarhead and find it a superb film, but they aren’t standing up yelling and clapping at the end of it.  But when “Take Only What You Can Carry” comes on you enjoy it.  You sing along.  You have a wee groove in your computer chair…all to this song written from the point of view of real people fleeing a current war.  It’s a thinker I suppose.

Is there anything I dislike about the album then?  Honestly not much but there are some things to mention.  At times the mix could be better, I found the fiddle is often competing with the main vocals and as a result they both lose a bit of clarity and definition.  It’s quite noticeable on the first track.  Secondly, I think the album as a whole would benefit from some of the extra instrumentation Gogol Bordello albums have had previously.  Think the fire buckets from “Super Taranta” or the referee whistles from “Transcontinental Hustle”.  There isn’t as much accordion on “Solidaritine” either.  Which is something I consider a GB staple.  Ex-members Pasha Newmer and Yuri Lemeshev both squeeze some box but only on one track each.  And oh, look at this in the liner notes…Eugene Hutz plays accordion on one track too!  His moustache kills fascists don’t you know?  One other nit to pit is the fact that there is one more uncomfortable question the album asks the listener.  Not the one about serious songs being a good jolly, but the one that track two, “Focus Coin”, raises.  That question being; Why are Gogol Bordello a better ska band in that one song than every other ska band?!?!  Seriously have a listen and see what I mean.  It’s the kind of thing Rancid, Randomhand, or Rold…I mean Goldfinger would do well to release.

My biggest gripe with the album is that it doesn’t come with a lyric book.  The CD doesn’t anyway, vinyl spinners let me know about your copies.  I love a wee lyric book.  Am I just to make up what I think the lyrics might be until I say them out loud and other people laugh at me?  God, it’s like the stone age in here.  They aren’t even on AZLyrics yet (as of the writing of this review).  Aye ok I’m being a wideo, but that is my biggest problem with the album.  I enjoy it so much that I’m irked that I didn’t get enough accessories.  Probably chalk that up as a pro overall.

So, there is “Solidaritine”.  One album to groove you, to move you, and in the darkness improve you.  It’s hard to define what “Classic” Gogol Bordello might be.  Every album is too different, they move the goalposts every few years.  Therefore, I can’t say it’s “classic” GB.  But it’s current GB.  And I think it’s a GB that will be looked back on as a defining moment.  I don’t like to call these things too early but expect me to keep a slot for it in my albums of the year.  And oh aye, Gill Alexandre is an right good bassist as it turns out.

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