The conceit behind Gogol Bordello has always been a slightly sticky one: a group that affirms motley, melting-pot culture collision while treating those cultures as exploitable trinkets, pursuing unity through a mashed-together, sped-up blend of jagged stereotypes. Led by the magnetic Eugene Hutz, a vodka-swilling, moustache-twirling embodiment of pan-Slavic clownishness, they’ve cobbled together what Robert Christgau has called “the world’s most visionary band,” a brusquely global collective which espouses punk brotherhood via reductive cultural shorthand.
Yet however tempting it may be to scrutinize this rampant abuse of easy signifiers, it ultimately feels embarrassing, an affront to what’s fundamentally a primal brand of feel-good expression. The music, aided by its breakneck pace and hyper-stylized showmanship, seems almost impervious to critical analysis, representing the simplicity of punk on an international canvas, all souped-up Klezmer, gypsy iconography, and whirling dervish strings.
The expansiveness of this sound doesn’t leave much room for tweaking, though Trans-Continental Hustle shakes things up with an increased reliance on the sounds of Brazil, Hutz’s new adopted home. This doesn’t mean you’ll find any bossa nova or samba dominating the mix; the changes are largely ornamental—some hand percussion here and a tweaked time signature there—and amount to a new exotic spice tossed onto a dish that’s already somewhat over-seasoned.
The result, like all Gogol Bordello albums, proves disorienting, so suffused with speed and energy and soundbite globalism that these things nearly cancel themselves out. It’s disorienting enough that you may not be able to tell which of the band’s albums you’re listening to, or notice that with Hustle they’ve made the move to a major label. No concession in sound or style has been made, which says less about how steadfast they are than about the inherent marketability of their sound.
This all might read like strained browbeating over an album which, to be entirely fair, doesn’t have much wrong with it. Yet the good things about the band are largely self-evident and unchanging, existing more in the realm of aesthetic and live performance than on a song-by-song basis. If anything, Hustle proves how rigid of a system they’ve ended up conceiving. At a certain level there’s just no way to get any faster, wilder, or more positive.
This means that songs like “Um Menima,” with its staggered, woozy beat, feel more successful than they should, breaking the spell of racing over-instrumentation that has by now nearly become a drone. Others, like the bloodlessly forceful title track, may be more inherently successful, but seem weaker because of their similarities. Founded on precepts of energy, positivity, and speed, the band has no choice but to keep pushing these buttons, churning out records whose rampant energy belies an increasing sense of atrophying decay.