Though I've yet to witness the uninhibited live show that reportedly is the band's raison d'être, New York-based "Ukrainian Gypsy punk cabaret" outfit Gogol Bordello asks an important question on its electrifying new album, Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony: Why is so much American music of dissent joyless and tiresome where its international counterparts are ebullient and exhilarating? I've gotten plenty from some of our country's most vocal social critics (Minor Threat, N.W.A, Bob Dylan, whoever), but the relative stylistic conservatism, generally speaking, of these pioneers and others seems so counterproductive when compared to stuff by Tom Zé or the Specials or Fela Kuti--music that begs active participation by dint of its contagious groove, its vibrant texture, its lust for a life that may not actually exist but should. On "Let's Get Radical," a rollicking number on Multi Kontra Culti that moves along on a lazy upbeat, Bordello front man Eugene Hütz chastises a friend for her "self-collapsing ironic mind" and suggests a cure of getting "radical and not sporadical, not ironic, sardonic, catatonic, ceremonic, but radical." It's a celebration of the unpopular idea as a populist ideal, something the original America seemed committed to as heartily as the promise of unfettered economic opportunity. So how come Toby Keith speaks for us now?
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