The difference between disliking a band and respecting a band is an important one. If there is sufficient evidence that a certain group is a bunch of talentless hacks, than there’s nothing wrong with saying so. Being second-rate, by the way, has nothing to do with character and everything to do with artistry. Criticism need not be personal. Over the last decade or so, Gogol Bordello has built up a reputation as an eccentric group of gypsy punks who are very talented at the stirring the pop cultural pot. Their name comes from the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, who introduced Ukrainian culture to Russian culture. The band’s goal of bringing popular music from Eastern Europe to the English-speaking world has succeeded fairly well, and this is why, as mentioned earlier, it is easier to respect Gogol Bordello than to like their music.
Pura Vida Conspiracy has all of the pomp, spontaneity and sense of humor that is to be expected from the band at this point. Frontman Eugene Hütz gargles and stammers through the album with furious apathy. His idiosyncratic, yet consistent vocals matched with the accompanying rock band, accordions, and violins creates a homogenous feel to the tracks, and during some moments it feels gimmicky. Yet, Hütz is actually from Ukraine, and as a result, the synthesis sounds authentic. Thus, Vampire Weekend syndrome, whereby rich white males appropriate world music in a quixotic attempt to appear cosmopolitan (put on some yacht rock, dude), is, thankfully, avoided. The band sounds best when they change paces on tracks like “I Just Realized,” or the sweeping finale “We Shall Sail.”
Blurring pop genres is a very difficult thing to do, and it is often said that the best artists accomplish this mighty task. Though I have not seen Gogol live, I’ve heard that they’re great performers. This may explain my relative disinterest with their recordings. Despite what School of Rock may have wanted us to believe, a great rock n’ roll show does not change the world, but it may prompt you to be more enthused about a band and, in turn, appreciate their recordings more than you would have. Pura Vida Conspiracy sounds consistent with the rest of their discography, and diehard fans will be pleased.