Earlier this year the New York “gypsy punk” band Gogol Bordello landed a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music in the “Americas” category. The choice set off a furor among people who care about such things, with British magazine Songlines devoting two full pages to the subject in its latest issue (journalist Garth Cartwright excoriates the band and DJ and journalist Max Reinhardt praises them). In the same issue, bandleader Eugene Hutz muses, “I’ve spent a lot of time spitting fire trying to get out from the world music category.” Of course, "world music" is a marketing term, not a genre, and the group’s new album, Super Taranta! (released yesterday by Side One Dummy), is nothing more than a rock record with aggressive violin and accordion riffs.
While I was once taken with Gogol Bordello, their use of Eastern European folk styles has diminished over the years, along with my enthusiasm. Their sound was never particularly “authentic,” but these days the non-rock elements are little more than window dressing, giving the band some level of quirky uniqueness (although the manic presence of Hutz is what people love most). When I listen to the new record, thoughts of Romani music never enter my head; instead I imagine a bunch of punks on Broadway, romping through the score of Fiddler on the Roof. There’s little difference between Hutz’s post-Iggy caterwauling and the overripe performance of, I dunno, Joel Grey, except Hutz has worse elocution and rarely drops below a strained roar. Gogol Bordello has become the musical equivalent of Borat.
The band performs at the Vic on Sunday. I imagine that J. Niimi’s critic’s choice in Friday’s paper will offer a different perspective.