Gogol Bordello: Solidaritine
CD | LP | DL
Available at Sister Ray
Available 16th September
In a time of real crisis Eugene Hutz, the Ukranian-born frontman of Gogol Bordello, knew instinctively where to turn. Initially choosing Gogol as a name for the author’s success in smuggling the country’s culture into Russia, their take on Eastern European music with Pogues like abandon, took them around the world. But with desperate times requiring desperate music, the invasion of his home country by Putin meant that the only vehicle that would do was a nod to the punk and hardcore of the singer’s youth. A decision vindicated by the likes of Jello Biafra making contact to offer support in the days after the war started and Patti Smith singing with him at a fundraiser. Hutz encapsulates his feelings at the moment by saying that “Releasing any kind of art that doesn’t address the situation in Ukraine right now would be pretty despicable.”
As a result, Solidaritine adds more pace and fury to the hearty Ukrainian Borscht, of their usual ebullient Eastern European flavourings. Overall making it less positive punk than positively pissed off punk. While the album opener Shot of Solidaritine speeds up to a decent pace, this being most obviously manifested in a cover of Fugazi’s Blueprint, invested with Gogol Bordello swing. Also may be changing the emphasis of the seminal ‘Never mind what’s been selling, it’s what you’re buying’ refrain, away from mindless consumerism to blind nationalism in the album’s context.
Following this the pairing of a rousing violin work out and a guest spot from the Bad Brains H.R. on The Era of the End of Eras. Working so well together that Hutz and scene CV contender and producer Walter Schreifels (Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools) were raised to tears by the snippet of Bad Brains Sailin’ On provided. Lines like the presumably Soviet Union referencing “I’ve seen this movie from the first row” highlighting the return of despots from every denomination and hue the world over again.
Forces of Victory is an updated version of a song from an earlier album which begins with some frenzied acoustic guitar picking before flying into the instrumental breaks of the original with words of resistance. Kharkiv’s poet and novelist Serihy Zhadan contribution another reminder of how close to home this stuff is.
At this point it might be worth clarifying that for all the inspiration anyone expecting the monochrome blast that some US hardcore constitutes will be disappointed. The rage at the service of the band while all the different elements of Gogol Bordello remain intact. That first single Focus Coin, while not the strongest track, does the rock guitar into ska feel without it sounding forced may be down to the diverse backgrounds of the musicians. As throughout the album, the added vocals of Ashley Tobias elevating the tune of this, and a Fire on Ice Floe which proceeds in a similar but more deliberate vein to demonstrate that slow can be just as good.
Take Only What You Can Carry even manages to come within spitting distance of the Levellers whilst also being good. This portrayal of the refugee experience once again drawing on Hutz’s experiences to make it and the accompanying video even more powerful and defiant. A dissident father meaning that his journey through camps in Eastern Europe and Italy must have resonated with today’s scenes of dispossessed Ukranians trying to escape the front line of the war. Similar scenes perhaps meaning we could extend the relatively warm reception given to the displaced of Ukraine to the people of other countries who are often fleeing the bombs of the self-same regime.
Sonically the on point old school punk eruption of My Imaginary Son, immediately had me thinking how this would translate live, and that I could mention having seen them in Hungary many years ago. The recent release of Woodstock ’99’s fright fest in my head, Gogol Bordello’s euphoric set, and exchange of energy between band and audience at Sziget in Budapest, a world away. Concluding, in the days before it was more notable to see band members stay on stage, with Hutz held aloft as one of their own, as he crowd surfed across the field on a large drum. On this evidence the dates to be announced in support of Solidaritine well worth setting those modern computer style alerts for.
While you’re there check the likes of their Facebook page, which currently resemble that of an NGO, rather than traditional band site. A reminder that while Solidaritine may be one of the most urgent and personal albums of this or any other year it isn’t just a soundtrack to a war. Gogol Bordello’s mission to bring their self-styled ‘joy core’ to the world, invigorated and adapted into a fuck you to Putin, and telling testament to the power of punk. Its many strands alive outside our western comfort zones, from Ukraine to Asia, and the high-stakes rebellion of the punks often seen on the front line of protests in Myanmar. Cosplay Clash or Mick Jones in a tin hat on the cover of Sandanista this isn’t.