Sound: Alternative rockers Mumiy Troll have been around for a number of years on the music scene give or take 26 and during that time they have proven to be a sleek, dynamic act that has earned plenty of critical praise in it's home country of Russia. Of course, using the terms rockers doesn't fully capture what Mumiy Troll is about. Between dreamy guitar lines from Yuri Tsaler and the smooth-as-silk vocal delivery of Ilia Lagutenko, they always have a touch of mellowness to their productions. For the band's first international release Comrade Ambassador, that distinct flair is brought to new audiences, and in many cases we're treated to the funkier side of Mumiy Troll as well. Every song is performed in the band's native Russian language, but that verbal barrier never becomes a hindrance. There is enough emotion and charisma behind Lagutenko's vocals that it's hard to not feel some sort of connection with it all.
For American audiences who might not be familiar with the quartet, there is a polished feel to each song you'll hear on Comrade Ambassador. With the band having formed so early on in the 1980s, it's very possibly that much of the New Wave rock style stayed with the band. Tracks like Mothers and Daughters (Mamy Docherei) exude almost a Bryan Ferry vibe, with it's pristine guitars, down-tempo bass line, and easy-on-the-ears vocals. Hey, Tovarishch! (Hey, Tovarishch! ) is an absolutely amazing song that takes the tempo up a notch to reveal a funkier side, and a Talking Heads-like approach is taken during the verses. The 80's vibe really works for the band, and while these songs still are often on the mellower side, there is still enough instrumental texture to keep things interesting.
The entire first half of Comrade Ambassador reveals jewels. We Overslept (Prospali) is another slow grooving tune that is driven by the bass line. Add in the brief, but interesting piano intro line and the restrained distorted lead guitar line under the verse, and Mumiy Troll proves that they have composed both a catchy and uniquely crafted track. Nuclear Stations (Yadernye Stantsh) whips out the guitar delay to craft what could possibly be the coolest track on the album. The chorus actually feels more like a straightforward rock track than of the others on the playlist, which is interesting considering that the tempo never picks up that much.
During the 2nd half of the record, things certainly take a turn for the more sedate. With the exception of Queen of Rock (Koroleva Rocka), which seems destined to be the biggest hit off the record because it is so damn catchy, the final tracks gravitate toward balladry. Witnesses (Svideteli), Sleep Rock'N'Roll (Pospi, Rock'N'Roll), and Burn It All (Gori Jeto Vse) are all very laid-back numbers, which would be fine if they added a little something musically different within the mix. There are instances where a cool synth or guitar line is layered into a section here or there, but those are not prominent enough to hold your attention that long. // 8
Lyrics: As was mentioned earlier, each song on Comrade Ambassador is sung in Russian, but the band/record label was kind enough to include full translations within the liner notes. You never know how much will get lost in translation, but it's easy to see that there is plenty of poetry within the songs. Drunken Song is an apt example with lyrics such as, Your men are like the moon; They come at night; And leave before the dawn; In places where porters are sobbing; And chimneysweepers dream of ash. Not every song might be that elaborate or visual, but there is a good deal of creativity that is happening on the album. // 9
Overall Impression: Comrade Ambassador is not quite a homerun because of the few dull moments that come along the way, but there are certainly a good number of songs that reach near perfection in their construction. Of course, even in moments of lull, there is still a gorgeous production value to it all. It's a tight, polished album that should catch the ears of a lot of new listeners. It should be noted that there is also a bonus track of California Dreamin' at the end, but it doesn't veer too much from the original. The main difference is that there are fewer harmonies, which isn't necessarily an improvement. In any case, Mumiy Troll still has a lot to offer musically after more than 25 years as a band, and I hope that they break out the funkier side more in the future. For as much as they like to deliver slower tracks, Mumiy Troll has an exceptional knack for delivering incredible groove-oriented bass lines and funky riffs. // 8