Since his arrival on American shores in 1993, Ukrainian singer Eugene Hütz has been cranking out explosive albums with his band Gogol Bordello that crossbreed musical traditions from all over the globe, while growing a maniacally devoted fanbase through live shows that marry sweat-and-blood punk with cabaret-style costumes and atavistic dance breakdowns. The band has established itself as the industry standard for melting-pot rock: Any given song on their latest effort, Pura Vida Conspiracy, can pivot from a honky-tonk two-step to a Celtic fiddle line or a mariachi jingle in a matter of seconds.
At his most insightful, Hütz inhabits character tropes—the immigrant outsider, the wandering gypsy—through exaggeration and burlesque comedy; he retains certain broken-English touches even after having lived in the States for a decade, and songs such as “Malandrino” find the singer self-styling as a gypsy foundling “born with singing heart.” For all its multicultural variety, however, Pura Vida Conspiracy sounds too similar to its predecessors, and one wonders whether the band has already covered so much ground that there are few new avenues for it to explore.
But while Hütz's eccentric character portraits can begin to feel gimmicky, contrived, or just repetitive, the band still manages to optimize the creative potential of playing fast and loose with languages and musical influences. Grammatical idiosyncrasies such as dropping an article or a preposition, for example, allow Hütz to stuff each line with more interesting syllables, such as “Bring me place my father showed me my first guitar chord” on “Lost Innocent World.”
Traditional punk rhythms provide the architecture for most of the songs on Pura Vida Conspiracy, though the inevitable canon-blast of guitar and drums is diversified by violin crescendos, accordion melodies, and cavaquinho guitar. Producer Alan Scheps's guiding hand can be detected in multivalent yet precise compositions like “Malandrino,” which opens as a country-western sashay, incorporates a mariachi guitar and horn line during the chorus, and bursts into a straight-up punk stomp in the second refrain.
Even more so than previous Gogol Bordello albums, Pura Vida Conspiracy seems geared toward evoking how a rich community can be fostered out of dissimilar groups, with Hütz urgently passing on the wisdom he's gained from living as a nomadic outsider. In “We Rise Again,” the lyric “Borders are scars on the face of the planet” reads like a manifesto for the band's inclusivity. Gogol Bordello's energy and optimism can grow exhausting, and even if their product has begun to feel familiar, they still sound unlike any other band on the planet, and it's hard not to be charmed by the fervor with which they keep seeking out new borders to cross and uninitiated listeners to welcome into their always hospitable tribe.