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Mumiy Troll
Comrade Ambassador
Real Records


This one came with a note scribbled on it that said "Russian Spacehog." Now, I barely remember Spacehog except that they had one or two hit singles, were big fans of David Bowie and then faded from view pretty quickly. In contrast, Mumiy Troll has been rattling around Russia since 1983! Comrade Ambassador marks their first U.S. release, which is an interesting package: first, the songs are all sung in Russian, except for the occasional English phrase thrown in here and there, but the lyric sheets are all translated into English. This reminds me of the days back in the latter part of The Cold War, when my Russian teacher (yo, Bud Blauer!) would tell us of his trips to the Soviet Union and the proliferation of bootlegged American and British music complete with Russian lyric sheets. Stuff like that was contraband in those days which, of course, meant that people wanted it more, and used the sheets to learn the meaning of the songs to which they were singing along. I'd like to think that a similar thing could happen here, but America is so inundated with "entertainment" that something like this is likely to get lost in all the noise.

But, that would be a shame. Mumiy Troll isn't presented here as a mere novelty act. In fact, it was selected from the bunch by my editor as probably the best piece in the lot from my recent review package, and I've got to agree. My Russian is very rusty, probably all rust by this point, and while it was fun to try and pick out a word here or there, the real enjoyment came from the music itself. Some of what I read about the band noted that they are rather popular in Scandinavia, and I can see why since the first thing I would compare them to is the rock music I've heard from Finland and Sweden, and a fair bit of British Prog as well. Comparisons like that are always tricky of course, especially when you have a band that's been honing its particular sound for more than a quarter century, and hails from a country whose cultural influences were sort of bottled up for roughly 50 years. As a result, Mumiy Troll isn't immediately identifiable with any other band. They've digested and assimilated a lot of what they've heard, both domestically and abroad, but any band that can't sound unique in some way isn't likely to last as long as they have. Maybe I'm not jaded by what I hear now since I'm clinically unaware of their back catalog, but Comrade Ambassador sounds fresh and new, and there's not much repetition between songs. I've been playing it in my car for nearly a month straight and I haven't gotten tired of it yet, which is longer than 95% of what passes through my hands.

So, if you've been wondering about Russian music, this is a good start. If you're not wondering about Russian music, well I'd give it a chance anyway: the music will transcend your inability to decipher the language. And the last track is a Russian version of "California Dreaming" so there's at least a bit of the familiar to start from.

p.s. I just noticed that the interior of the CD case is covered in the iconography of Russia: stacking dolls, minarets, ballet dancers, vodka bottles, ushanka hats, the hammer and sickle, the AK-47, etc. and of course, the Mumiy Troll logo. On the front is an assassin or spy, a briefcase nuke, an oil well and Sputnik. The main focus is a Superman character with a tiger's head. Haven't quite figured out the meaning of that one…

-JD

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