I think my first memory of getting trans-continentally hustled is while on holiday with my Mum when I was young, and being accosted by a haggard gypsy woman selling magic runes on the seafront. I have since been informed that if you are met with a particularly persistent one of these nomadic saleswomen, simply reply "No thank you, Auntie," and they will leave you alone. This is sort of like Romany code apparently, and indicates that you either have gypsy associates or ancestry. And therefore already own enough sodding lucky heather to stuff a mattress.
I'm pretty sure that this is exactly the same type of unintentional stereotyping that Eugene Hutz is singing about on Trans-Continental Hustle's "Break the Spell":
"You love our music but you hate our guts
And I know you still want me to ride on back of the bus"
I guess he's still hung up about being foreign or something. Gogol Bordello's fifth album is partly their predictable fare, which is unpredictable and frantic Balkan dub mayhem sweating punk spirit, whilst Hutz does his best to educate the world about the rest of the world. Sadly, like waking up to find a rusty caravan on your land surrounded by mangy dogs and inbred children, something isn't completely right about the situation.
For me, Gogol Bordello have been gradually getting less exciting since I heard 2005's Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. That album was like a revelation in terms of energy, approach and philosophy, Gogol Bordello actually being one of the few bands who gave erudite cultural and theoretical backing about capitalism and art to their eclectic chaos. But by being great, they accidentally fell victim to the biggest rock clichĂ© of all: They were already turned up to 11, so what's next, 12?
The songwriting on Trans-Continental Hustle is technically tighter, but even a few well-executed Latin influences doesn't save this album from being underwhelming in comparison to their earlier work. There is some cool stuff: "Pala Tute" joins the dots between sex and acoustic guitar the way you could only discover with a bottle of vodka and a violin, while "Sun on My Side" is morbidly carnivalesque. "Last One Goes the Hope" shows they still have subversive folky punk potential, and their live experience consistently proves they are one of the most unique and joyous bands of my generation. But overall, this album is not that exhilarating at all. I blame one thing:
Gogol Bordello have been downhill ever since they appeared on stage with her at Live Earth. If they were trying to promote multiculturalism by appearing in front of a large audience, that one musically catastrophic event probably unintentionally set Romany rights back to 1939. And almost rightfully so. Vocalizing the authenticity of diversity and simultaneously whoring their heritage is where we find Gogol Bordello at the moment, and sadly it makes the band feel more like a media curiosity than the revolution I'm sure they were meant to be.
I think back to my gypsy of memory, who when offered several coins in exchange for her runes replied: "Paper money is good, dear." Perhaps it's no coincidence that this is Gogol Bordello's major label debut? I suppose it doesn't really matter, because this time neither the message nor the music really resonate with me. And it's at this point that I'd like to say that if you think I'm being intentionally insensitive, then please remember that I find few things to be more culturally offensive than Madonna. It is therefore with diplomatic immunity that I, as a fan of the band, deem Trans-Continental Hustle to be as frustrating and useless as a small a tuft of lucky heather.
Another album like this? No thank you, Auntie.