by Brian Arsenault
The guitar work on “Fantastica,” the first cut on Vladivostok, impressed. But it wasn’t until the middle cuts — “Not Tomorrow” and “Lucky Bride” — that I began to think this band is really good. But next up was “Sorry Tiger” and all my concerns about European rock bands bubbled to the surface.
I have never expected much of European rock bands east of England. There’s just this terrible tendency toward vapid pop. Need I say more than “Abba?”
Mumiy Troll (pronounced moo-me troll) may not be familiar to most American audiences but Russia’s favorite band has been around more than a quarter century. Vladivostok is its first English language album and an attempt to break out in this market.
Getting back to the good stuff, “Not Tomorrow” is carried by a haunting melody and with its “Queen of Sorrow” tipped lyrics is reminiscent of the dark, drunken and depressed school of Russian poets. You know, stuff like “Our family’s beloved dead dog lies frozen to the ground.”
“Lucky Bride” follows with a great interweaving of the lead vocal and guitar. The song has a lyricism much like late Lennon.
One of the things about this band I don’t understand, however, are the frequently repeated comparisons to the Rolling Stones. Anyone expecting even a distant cousin to the greatest rock ‘n roll band in the world will be deeply disappointed. Think Brian Ferry-Roxy Music and David Bowie and you’ll be closer to the truth.
Like I said, though, after those two excellent songs comes “Sorry Tiger” with hokey tiger sounds and the worst bouncy, bouncy sing-song tendencies of Europop. It’s just not rock ‘n roll.
And maybe that’s at the core of the problem. There are no blues and r&b roots in Russia or the Continent as a whole. I know, I know, Muddy and John Lee weren’t Brits either but those English kids wore out American blues recordings and lots of Jimmy Page’s riffs are based in the sound of Billy Boy Arnold’s bands. In the states, the Allman Brothers are never better than when covering Elmore James, etc. Somehow the same connection doesn’t seem to have crossed the English Channel.
All music is derivative of something earlier or contemporary and the roots here, I fear, really are Roxy Music and such, good enough in their own right but not substantial enough to serve as a base for a later band. There are even a few horrifying moments of technopop with synthesizers,etc., which is a shame since the core band, especially guitarist Yuri Tsaler, is composed of really sound musicians.
Vocalist Ilya Lagutenko gets the credit for the band’s formation and perpetuation and is the band’s and the album’s principal song writer. His voice is perhaps an acquired taste. To me, it has an odd quality that is sometimes striking, sometimes amusing but frequently seems just contrived weirdness. Listeners will have their own opinions.
Still, “Vladivostok Vacation” near the end of the album is a solid rocker and makes me wish the whole work had more of that quality. It’s possible something was lost in translation.
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