Russkaja are a band that, sadly, few people I know have heard of. Until I find out they’ve not heard of them and then I force them to listen to “Energia” and transform them into fans. They’re a strange band, but in a good way, with a genuinely unique sound which is something of a rarity these days.
The branding of “turbo pola metal” pretty much sums them up but doesn’t give credit to the genuine variety in their song-writing which is more apparent than ever on Peace, Love & Russian Roll. In fact, I’d happily go as far as to say that this is their best album to date simply on the strength of this embracing of genres.
Opener “Rock ‘n’ Roll Today” is fast and rowdy. Georgij’s gruff vocals sound like a Russian bear demanding what we all want – “Give me my rock ‘n’ roll today!”. It’s an ensemble piece, making it the ideal start to the album. The guitars wail during the traditional rock’n’roll break, brass sounds belt throughout and Ulrike’s violin gets a fair hearing as well – all to a constant upbeat tempo courtesy of Mario’s crashing drums. It pretty much sums up the band – brash, noisy and fun.
Fans of classic ska bands such as Madness with love “Slap Your Face”. Some nice bass leads, cracking brass and an overall funky feel… yet still managing a bit of that polka sound.
“Hometown Polka” has a sound that matches its title. Much lighter in tone and smacks of the kind of song that has a silly dance to go with it. It’s also the first song on the album with non-English lyrics.
Just to prove they regard pigeon-holing as something that happens to other bands, “There Was A Time” brings to mind a 1970’s acoustic ballad more than anything else. Listening to other songs, you’d not think Georgij could get away with a ballad, but if Sabaton’s Joakim can do it… It works, too. Surprisingly well. It segues very well into “El Pueblo Unido” (not a cover of the song of the same name by Ilti Illimani) which, I think, is actually sung completely in Spanish. A gentle, whistled start rapidly changes into something a little more bouncy.
“Lovegorod” takes us back into ska/funk territory with a bit of a lounge music feel before the wonderful “Parachute” hits us with another ballad. And it’s a doozy. I don’t know what it is, but this one really works for me. A great song – stripped back and basic which, for a band with so many members is surprising. It’s a song to stand, sway and clap to. Or wind the windows down and listen to as you slip your sunglasses on, heading off into the sunset. Great song.
“Let’s Die Together (Mon Amour)” ramps up the cheese factor. If I had to name an act that I thought it reminded me of, I would say Renée and Renato. Played to a polka beat, at least in its initial stages until it changes into something altogether more mad. This is a piece that needs to be performed or acted out, not just played over the speakers. Italian operatic love song coupled with Russian folk music.
We move onto “Salty Rain” which has a wonderfully dirty sound to start with. Think the sort of thing playing in a club during a film noir. With an edge of reggae. I told you these guys didn’t like to be pigeonholed. Again, it’s another downbeat track rather than the boisterous noise we’re perhaps more used to from Russkaja.
No. That hits us again like a Soviet jackboot with “You Are The Revolution” – the kind of song title that would have had you locked up under the old administration (actually, I’d still not put it past the current lot…), this actually has quite a heavy sound to it and really pounds into a fist-pumping crowd-pleaser with a great “Wo-ah-oh-oh” chorus.
“Radio Song” is another complete reversal of pace having more connection to traditional country than ska or metal. It’s another ballad, but with very much tongue in cheek lyrics (“I clean my teeth… I use a brush… only for you-hoo….”)… and it’s great. It’s like the crap song you tried to write for a girl when you were a teenager, only Russkaja have recorded it and somehow made it brilliant.
The closing, title, track you can hear below recorded live for an Austrian TV show. It’s back to the pace and balls-out lunacy of the opener and is a great way to end this collection. Funky, catchy, showcasing the entire band and with a pun-tastic title/chorus, it’s signature Russkaja.
I really want this album to do well, because I really want Russkaja to be able to tour properly on it and entertain us all over the UK! There really is something for everyone on this album, my only concern being that they’re appealing to too wide a musical spread. If your tastes are eclectic, like mine, then you’re unlikely to be disappointed with anything you hear from the start to the end.
Fingers crossed I get to see some of the tracks performed live!
Peace, Love & Russian Roll is out on July 24th