CD Review: Mumiy Troll’s “Vladivostok”

April 18, 2012

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.

Mumiy Troll

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.

To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE


Live Pop: Mumiy Troll at The Roxy

May 14, 2009

by Devon Wendell

Russia’s own Mumiy Troll set The Roxy on fire on Wednesday night May 14th — not literally, but almost. Though this is their first US tour, the band was founded in the early ’80s by leadman Ilya Lagutenko, performing only erratically over the next decade. But since the release of their first official album, “Utekai,” in 1997 they’ve been considered one of Russia’s most influential rock groups, often dubbed “The Rolling Stones of Eastern Europe.”

2649.Mumij_Troll

Mumiy Troll

The group took the stage in celebration of their debut U.S. album, “Comrade Ambassador,” as well as the use of their song, “V Jetom Svett” (“In Our World”), in the controversial Russian film, “Dead End Falls” (2009), directed by Gouzalia Sharaf, who was also present to witness the festivities at the Roxy.

Mumiy Troll (Ilya Lagutenko, vocals, guitar, keyboards; Yuri Tsaler, guitar, keyboards; Eugene Zvidionny, bass; and Oleg Pungin, drums) started their set with “Yadernye Stantsii” (“Nuclear Stations”), a bleak, post-punk, Clash-like anthem. Lagutenko’s surprisingly youthful, ADHD-like enthusiasm was present from the first note as he pranced around the stage in a white sailor’s suit with the bawdy energy of an early ’70’s Mick Jagger.

The song “Muzykant” (“Musician”) displayed the quartet’s sense of cohesion and mutual devotion. On the adventurous “Prospali” (“We Overslept”), Lagutenko played a funky melody on a compact synthesizer with what appeared to be a pen and mouthpiece device, looking like an electronic melodica designed for Darth Vader. The rhythms of bassist Zvidionny, interlocking with the steady pulse of Pungin’s drumming on the piece, “Pyanaya Struna” ( “Drunken String”), gave the music a haunting, trance-like feel as the overflow audience sang along with every well-punctuated chorus. “O Paradiso” was another audience favorite, with their enthusiastic chanting almost drowning out Lagutenko’s intense vocal.

Though Mumiy Troll’a visual presentation appeared “happy, joyous, and free,” there was a dark, ennui lurking beneath their mostly minor key compositions. This was especially well-exemplified in “Pospi Rock n Roll” (“Sleep Rock’ N’ Roll”) which was the perfect showcase for Yuri Tsaler’s The Edge-meets-Tony Iommi for a “Season in Hell” guitar stylings, with its whammy bar, dive bomb rhythms and feedback-drenched leads. Lagutenko added some tasty acoustic guitar playing, bringing the set to a climactic halt.

Ever minute of Mumiy Troll’s performance moved and expanded with a growing sense of adventure and originality, and Lagutenko’s energy was totally infectious. The loyal crowd (seemingly made up of people of all nationalities) didn’t let the language barrier get in the way of enjoying a truly captivating performance. To quote one satisfied fan, “I don’t speak a word of Russian, but this was the best set I’ve heard here. Mumiy Troll rocks.”


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