Gogol Bordello have been together as a band for nearly 15 years now, and true to their gypsy lifestyle, they’ve been touring nonstop almost that entire time. However, even people with the most affecting case of wanderlust begin to reexamine their choices after a while, even if only to remind themselves of why they do what they do in the first place.
The band’s sixth studio album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, sees Gogol Bordello and frontman Eugene Hütz challenging themselves on their lifestyles by exploring their motivations for traveling around the world and singing gypsy punk songs, despite the fact that it maybe hasn’t been everything that they wanted it to be when they started their journey.
On the fourth track, “Lost Innocent World,” Hütz sings about a time when he was still wholly optimistic and hopeful about the opportunities that music would present to him, but now, over a decade later, he has found that it has brought him just as much pain as pleasure. “Bring me place my father showed me/My first guitar chord/Place where light of second thought cannot survive/Place where all my friends are still alive.”
Likewise, on “The Other Side of Rainbow,” he tells the listener, “I’ve seen the other side of rainbow/And it was black and white,” explaining that the one thing that he always saw as being transcendent and able to take him on the journeys that he longed for as a younger man (i.e. music) also has its own dark side to it.
But the album isn’t all centered on the negative aspects of being a world-famous touring band, because it also has a very clear message that your life is “your story to tell” (from “My Gypsy Auto Pilot”) and that because of that, you should set your expectations high, as that will determine how it inevitably plays out (“It’s the way you name your ship/That’s the way it’s gonna row” from “It Is The Way You Name Your Ship”).
That’s also the basic tenant behind the album’s opening track, the heavily punk-influenced “We Rise Again,” an anthem about how you will always come back around to appreciating and understanding your life, even after you begin to have doubts, as long as you’re constantly being pure and true to yourself in your actions.
“Maladrino” further explores this idea, with Hütz constantly referencing how he was born with a “singing heart,” but it’s really the album closer, the simple acoustic song “We Shall Sail,” that sees the band coming around and finally understanding that nothing, no lifestyle or no choice, is innately good or bad, but that those are just attributes we apply to them after the fact, and that sometimes you’re just born to be someone who is going to need to explore and have adventures, even if it’s only to “fail”. The thing that really matters is that you’re honest in whatever you do.
In order to match Pura Vida Conspiracy’s more reflective tone, as opposed to the action-oriented direction of their prior albums, Gogol Bordello have also tempered themselves in their songwriting and arrangements. Of course, many of these songs are familiar to older Gogol Bordello fans, as the group has cultivated a very distinct sound over the years, but many of these tracks are considerably slower-paced and less intense versions of what the band has done in the past.
Not to say that that’s terribly surprising, as it seems like the band needed to open up and approach their music from a different angle after going at a nonstop pace of international touring for over a decade now. This reeled-in style seems like an extension of their exhaustion and desire to create something laid-back that would give them a chance to breathe and really examine what they’re doing and why, rather than trying to hustle and do everything at breakneck speed all the time.
In other words, this changing dynamic is a good example of the group making an effort to be true to themselves by acknowledging that they have changed in some ways from the roving band of singing gypsies that they started out as, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their desire to continue to seek out that lost, innocent world that they’ve been looking for all along; they’re just taking a different route to get there now.