Thursday night. 1:51 A.M. Nine beers so far.
I just got out of the bath and decided that now was as good as ever to write this review - you've never heard this band and probably never will if you live outside the former Soviet Union. It's a shame, but I really don't think Leningrad could care less.
Piraty XXI Veka (Pirates of the 21st Century) is the band's third or fourth album - I don't really know for sure, as there are official, pirate, and bootleg releases. In any case, this is the band's most famous album in Russia. I've heard this album everywhere from shithole bars to high-priced Benzes.
Leningrad is basically a ska band from St. Petersburg, Russia. But a simple description like that misses so much - in my opinion, vocalist Sergey Shnurov and company are building equally if not moreso on the tradition of Russian bards (such as Vladimir Vysotsky) as they are on Jamaican/post-Jamacian tunes.
What I mean to say is that while the songs oftentimes take the form of tired third-wave ska, the vocals sound like the Russian bards who were forced to release their records via samizdat methods and the lyrics (if you can understand them) echo the confusion and chaos of post-Soviet Russia in a way that your mother would not be happy to know about.
Piraty XXI Veka opens with the song "WWW," which, at face value, is an advertisement for the band's website - the chorus is "www.leningrad.spb.ru". However, the lyrics are a parody of an old Soviet song whose chorus was "My address today is the Soviet Union" - Leningrad answers by singing, "When the cops stop me / I don't have any money or any ID / I tell them to chill out / My address today is www.leningrad.spb.ru".
"WWW" - aside from the last phrase in the song - is one of the cleanest songs on the album. Quickly Shnurov and company move into lyrical territory that has caused Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov to ban the band from playing "public" concerts with the song "Blyadi" ("whores", but with a much stronger meaning in Russian).
"Blyadi" is a very chill song, quite the opposite to "WWW"'s fast pace. "No ideas and no money - ... where are you whores?" sings Shnurov in a style that is very familiar to any guy who is just looking for a good time without commitment - although "blyadi" literally means whores, here it is just used as a slang term for women....derogatory - certainly, but no different than popular US music calling women bitches.
The album goes further into Russian "mat" (swear words) with the third track, "Pidarasy" (pederasts). Surprisingly, this song is quite an upbeat number with a chorus going something like "I don't give a fuck / I'm made of shit / the worst thing that could happen / is becoming a pederast" - the sense of simply not caring and not just trying to chill is carried through in lyrics about "some look for exits, some look for treasures, some look for money, and some like shot machines....I don't give a fuck (repeat above)"....
The next track, in my opinion, is one of the album's weakest. Not just for it's complete ripoff of third-wave ska, but for it's English-language with a Russian accent title "Come on everybody." Sure, the song is just about coming to shows and partying, but now that I am paying attention it gets on my nerves.
Another weak song follows this, "Sobaka Baskervilei" (Hound of Baskerville, or whatever that fucking story was called). The difference between this song and it's namesake is that the chorus is ultimately using the word for a female dog, calling whoever the song is about a Baskerville Bitch. Not all that interesting.
Finally something more upbeat comes on - "Rezinovyi muzhik". I don't know what the first word means and my dictionary is packed away ahead of my move this weekend, but muzhik means dude. In any case, this song is a little too quick for me to pick out the words, but it is kind of a ska version of a drunken Sex Pistols song.
Next up is the single - "Mne by v nebo" - if I translate that right, it's something like "i'd like to be in the sky." I'm not sure about my translation though so fuck it. In any case, this song is the closest to traditional Russian bard songs and is also 100% clean lyrically - two reasons why it resonated so strongly with the Russian public. Late summer, this song was virtually unavoidable - whether you were walking down the street and heard it either on the radio/stereo blasting from a cafe or kiosk or whether you saw the pool hall video in constant rotation on MTV, you certainly couldn't break away from the song. And after a half year of something approaching overkill, I can still stand to listen to the song - certainly some sort of testament to its lasting value.
The question I have about the next song - "Lyudi ne letayut" (People don't fly) - is whether the band came up with the song first, or whether Ecco shoes used it as a slogan. In either case, the song is rather weak, especially comapred to what it's in between.
Entering the final stretch, we have "U Menya Est Vse" (I have everything). This track is a piano-laden ballad in a sense, basically going on about how Shnurov has everything he needs in his pocket full of marijuana. Nowhere near as lame as it sounds. My favorite part is when he sings something like "going along the street / meet with some cops / what's this weed? / i don't know anything about weed! this shit in my pocket - it's green tea!" I guess you kind of need to hear the Russian and understand it to like that part.
Following that, we've got another third-wave rocker, "Novyi god" (new year). The song starts out wishing people well at New Year's, but then goes into a slur of threats, ultimately wishing enemies a happy new year but warning them they don't have long.
Another song about marijuana, "Banany" (Bananas) follows. Although I don't like this song a whole lot, it does manage to give a good portrait of the desperation in everyday Russian life.
The album's final song is called "Bez tebya" (without you). The song is about someone Shnurov loves (I'm going to assume a woman, but hey, to each their own), singing that everything is basically good but "bez tebya pizdets" (without you everything totally fucking sucks). It's quite a good song to basically end the album on, since I - and I assume everyone else - skips the actual last track after hearing it once. Piraty XXI Veka close with "Privet, Jimi Hendrix" (Hi, Jimi Hendrix) which is a somewhat novel take on Hendrix' take on the US national anthem - Leningrad does a drunken feedback-laden instrumental version of the Soviet (and now Russian) national anthem. Fun once, but it doesn't really stand up to repeat listening.
I honestly don't know if Leningrad would be interesting or exciting to anyone who doesn't have a basic understanding of Russian - the music is somewhat standard ska, with some traditional Russian music thrown in - but they are, in my opinion, one of the best bands bridging Russian popular and underground music today. Although they can sell out stadiums in Moscow, the city's mayor cancels their concerts, forcing them to play underground shows to a couple hundred - at most - of their luckiest fans.
I was fortunate enough to see one of their club shows last summer, and I have to say it's one of the greatest experiences I've ever had.
Since this is the first time I've ever read the sidebar that says I can write in French, I figure I should add this - most of this site's users won't read this review. Of those that do, most won't bother to get this albums MP3s since the site I am enclosing - and the file names - are in Russian, hence inexplicable. However, fuck it - "c'est la vie". Check it out and expand your mind.
2:32 A.M. - the tenth beer, the last, bedtime. I've got to work in the morning.
MP3s available here (Russian site).