Gogol Bordello had fallen somewhat off the radar prior to its extensive touring for Trans-Continental Hustle, the band’s major-label debut (if that matters anymore). As you’ll hear in “Break The Spell,” Hutz’s upbringing — ethnically half-Roma, he arrived in America as a political refugee from Ukraine after the disaster at Chernobyl and the end of the cold war — showcases the diversity and disparities of American life and musical songstyles that too often get lost in rock’s eternal debates.
For those who only know Gogol Bordello through the success of “Start Wearing Purple,” the band is no novelty act. After 2005’s Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, Gogol Bordello had a full set of fun rompers, and with 2007’s Super Taranta! (also released on Side One Dummy), the band added first-rate social commentary. Now, on Trans-Continental Hustle, the band has finally added romance. The songwriting is more mature than that on their previous albums, but it flows naturally from them all the same.
“Pala Tutee” is as great a love song Gogol Bordello has in its canon, and the fact that it’s Trans-Continental Hustle’s opening track is a good sign of what’s to come (including at least two better love songs). “Sun on My Side” is as confessional as Hutz will ever get, in the style of both the rock confessional ballad and traditional Eurasion folk music (and please don’t invoke Borat, tempting as it may be). Standout “We’re Coming Rougher (Immigraniada)” takes the band’s previous satirical advances and makes it sweet in addition to smart and silly. “Uma Menina Uma Cigana” describes the realization that the album’s title refers to: Living out the American dream doesn’t mean you can work any less hard.
There are few lapses on Trans-Continental Hustle (moreso in the album’s second half), and like all Gogol Bordello albums, any lapses are more than made up for in another dimension of a song. “Raise Your Knowledge,” a near-desperate plea for using the privilege of being allowed to use your brain, is one of the least musically interesting songs on the album, something of a throwback track to the band’s 2002 debut, Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony. But it’s still a lyrically fascinating track for those who listen and think hard enough.
Those who want their rock musicians to hop genres won’t look to Gogol Bordello for satisfaction. But in every other way, Trans-Continental Hustle is a positive change of direction for one of the most misunderstood bands of the 21st century. Realizing that the band’s satirical vision of 2003 doesn’t resonate in the age of musical confusion, Hutz has based his music on love, work, and enjoying life. Like all Gogol Bordello albums, Trans-Continental Hustle is instantly enjoyable, but even more lyrical and musical layers emerge on repeat listens that show you just how smart and (simple) Gogol Bordello can be.