review – trans-continental hustle

It’s hard to continually raise the bar on a genre that you create for yourself and yet still remain fresh or creative.  That said, there’s something missing on Trans-Continental Hustle that was so eye-opening on Gogol Bordello‘s Gypsy Punks, so explosive on Super Taranta! that it’s hard to pinpoint.  The energy is here, Hutz is still Hutz, the pace is frenetically balanced between traditional punk, gypsy, and Carnaval atmosphere, with the immigrant-centric worldliness still representing the core of the band.  And despite the difficult task of incorporating a more discernible Latin sound tied to punk, there’s still something missing.

Many have noted the now infamous photo of the band wearing matching garb promoting the release of the TCH, a ominous sign of something completely antithetical to the core of GB and punk itself, a band comprised of wildly diverse elements too unrestrained to be coerced into uniformity. It could point to the more polished nature of the album as a whole.  For since this album is under the purview of mega-producer Rick Rubin, I suspect that GB’s talents, and perhaps its greatest asset, raw unpredictability, may be sacrificed for family-friendly airplay.  Take the songs Uma Memina, Last One Goes The Hope, Rebellious Love and To Rise Above, for example. The backup singers sound distinctly bored with their restrained wailing. Gone is the occasional though necessary explicit lyric, and less prevalent is the evocative gypsy violin from Sergey Ryabtsev in favor of the strumming of acoustic guitar.

That’s not to say there are unworthy tracks here.  Rebellious Love, My Companjera, In the Meantime in Pernambuco, and the epically momentum building When Universes Collide are all worthy of addition to the elite GB songs.   GB’s songwriting has always been intelligent, fun and belligerent, and it doesn’t deviate much on TCH.  In fact, the lyrics are probably as tight as they have been on previous albums; the fever to which they’re musically set simply isn’t as wild or spontaneous.

For the handful of standouts in this album, for me it doesn’t match the intensity of Super Taranta! and Gypsy Punks.  I don’t blame the band for going in a more polished direction; it was bound to happen that someone influential with the promise of a big payday would try to latch onto GB.  I’m thankful that it didn’t detract too much from Trans-Continental Hustle, and that it happened after two supremely powerful releases.  Trans-Continental Hustle is a fine, if perhaps too well-produced album that while not as overwhelmingly definitive, continues Gogol Bordello’s recognition in the realm of worldly punk.

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