Fails to mesmerize or even entertain.
Gogol Bordello’s Seekers and Finders is a Janus-faced album where the frustrations unfortunately outnumber the satisfactory elements. Most of the songs aspire to be ballads, with weighty instrumentals backing pathos-laden lyrics, but the emotional heft always comes across as artificial and staged rather than truly present. It does not help that the lyrics are banal. It is when Gogol forswears the heavy balladic tracks and opts instead for noisy and fast tunes that Seekers and Finders generates something more worthwhile.
The album begins well. In fact, opening track “Did It All” is probably Seekers and Finders’ best. It is all energy, with ripping guitars that more or less drown out lyricist Eugene Hütz and the puerile lyrics. From here, it goes downhill fast. The second track, “Walking on the Burning Coal,” initiates a run of five slow, singing-heavy songs; it is the best of the five, but is still plagued by vacuous lyrics and a highly emotional tone that rings false. Gogol seem to want the listener to pay careful attention to Hütz’s words, to genuinely feel what he is singing and be carried away on the rather soporific instrumentals. It is pure pathos. But it does not work; the band perform as if the emotional power is undeniable, which makes the absence of any real feeling generated by the songs all the more glaring. For a listener who does not buy in, there is nothing left to appreciate. These tracks, including the title track “Seekers and Finders” featuring guest vocals by Regina Spektor, fail to mesmerize or even entertain.
Pre-released single “Saboteur Blues” recovers some of the bustling excitement of “Did It All,” mercifully moving away from the ballads to re-embrace energetic instrumentals that push past empty lyrics. It is fun and is Gogol at their finest: a savage stage act barely willing to confine themselves in a sound booth long enough to press out a few tracks for an album. There is none of the false, manipulative pleading of the previous songs. Instead, “Saboteur Blues” pulses with genuine enjoyment. It highlights all that is wrong with the album because, unlike the songs preceding it, it packs a wallop of pathos—not the cloying lamentation of “Seekers and Finders” but authentic joy that takes the listener away. It is one of the only songs on the album that does not endeavor to lead the listener down some prescribed path but instead invites flights of fancy unique to each listener.
Cementing “Saboteur Blues” as a turning point, the album closes with several genre-bending efforts that evoke punk, electronic and even bluegrass sounds. The stand out here is “You Know Who We Are (Uprooted Funk),” which is kinetic and plays up the band’s fun-loving attitude with its devil-may-care spirit. It is a pure throwaway jam tune, deliberately and joyously inconsequential. It is a welcome respite from the serious and heavy essence of Seekers and Finders, which is desperate to make everyone feel feelings. Instead, “You Know Who We Are” rips through its contents in just over two minutes of delirious energy.
Seekers and Finders is trying very hard to be weighty stuff, to be taken seriously and emotionally. Unfortunately, Gogol Bordello lack the writing chops to create the sort of lyrics that pull listeners into such pathos-laden music. This is a band that excels at loosing its accordion, letting the fiddle experiment with klezmer and punk chords and just churning out pleasing noise at high velocity. They do far too little of that here.