Terrible Translations: Splean: Part 1

So last weekend, I decided to try my hand at translating some Сплин (Splean) lyrics, because:

  1. Splean is great and at least from their sound it seems like their songs are probably saying something beyond “woo let’s dance and drink beer!
  2. I’ve had an actual, physical book of Splean lyrics for almost a decade now and haven’t really done anything with it
  3. It seems like a good way to ingest new Russian vocab and get more comfortable with how all of the grammatical cases are used outside of friendly textbook examples

But wow, am I not even close to fluent in Russian. And translating song lyrics or poetry is going to present particular challenges, in terms of non-standard sentence structure (to make things rhyme or sound prettier or whatever) and figurative language. There’s a reason–beyond crowdsourcing, one imagines–that Duolingo has its users translate Wikipedia articles, where the writing style is supposed to get across its meaning in as clear and concise a way as possible. And, I imagine, Splean is probably one of those bands that sparks theorizing over the meaning of their lyrics even among native speakers. (In the reverse scenario, think–how the fuck would you attempt a translation of “The Reflex” without it just coming out as nonsense on the other end? And how would you be sure that wasn’t because it was nonsense in the first place?)

So, some piss-poor first attempts; maybe if I do enough of these I’ll get the hang of it and can revisit these first few, but seems unlikely.


I thought this would be the easiest because of it’s name and conceit, but that…was not the case.

Англо-русский словарь

English-Russian Dictionary

Мой поезд едет в Стамбул – это cool
Но денег нет на обед – это bad
Кто мне покажет стриптиз – тому kiss
А кто покажет кулак – тому fuck
My train is going to Istambul – this is “cool”
But there’s no money for lunch – this is “bad”
Whoever shows me a striptease — [that’s] whom I’ll “kiss”
And whoever shows me a fist — [that’s] whom I’ll “fuck”
Давай, лама, давай,
Давай открывай
Свой англо-русский словарь
Come on, Lama1, come on,
Let’s open
Your English-Russian dictionary.
Когда повсюду ты свой – это joy,
Когда ты всюду один – это splean.
Когда никто не звонит – это shit
Когда вокруг все не так – это…
When ????2 — this is “joy”
When you’re anywhere alone-this is “splean”
When nobody calls–this is “shit”
When around [you], it’s all wrong–this is…3
Кто ненавидит войну –
Тот в плену.
Из двух великих культур
Я хочу сделать одну.
Those who hate war–
They are in captivity.
From two great cultures
I want to make one.
Когда вокруг все поют ­– это good.
Когда ботинки не жмут – это тоже good.
Когда румян каравай – это кайф.
Когда на улице май – это и есть наша life.
When all around [you] are singing–this is “good.”
When [your] boots don’t pinch–this is also “good.”
When (the karavai is rosy????)4–this is bliss5.
When it’s May outside–this is our life.

1. Yeah, like that kind of Lama. Does this have some sort of alternate colloquial meaning or use in vernacular that Wiktionary did not pick up on?^
2. Man, I just can’t seem to parse the grammatical construction of this line. Повсюду is apparently an adverb meaning “all over” or “everywhere,” but there’s no verb in the line, so presumably it’s modifying the implicit present “to be”? But what the fuck is свой (possessive pronoun) showing ownership of… ^
3. The rhyme scheme and first verse would imply that the omission here is “fuck,” probably? ^
4. Is this some sort of idiomatic expression or what? Karavai is apparently a traditional wedding loaf. ^
5. Кайф being slang with narcotic connotations, apparently. ^


I’ve been listening to “Common People” a lot recently, and in translating this became obsessed with the idea that maybe Сплин was Russia’s answer to Pulp. But I definitely don’t know enough about either band to make that analogy and Pulp is older than I thought and the sounds are pretty dissimilar…so yeah, maybe not.

 Новые люди

New People

Замер троллейбус в троллейбусном парке.
Перепутал механик провода  по запарке
Выключив лампочки в сорок электросвечей
Люди ночами делают новых людей.
A trolleybus has stopped in the bus depot.
The mechanic, in a hurry, mixed up the wires.
Having turned off the light bulbs in forty (lights of some sort?)
People at night make new people.
Такие тонкие стены из цветного картонаВ светло-серых дворцах из стекла и бетона
Доверяя всему, что плетут из дневных новостей
Люди ночами делают новых людей.
Such thin walls of colored cardboard
In light-grey palaces of glass and concrete.
Trusting everything that is fabricated from the daily news
People at night make new people.
Люди кричат, задыхаясь от счастья,И стонут так сладко, и дышат так часто,
Что хочется двигаться с каждой секундой быстрей
Делая, делая, делая новых людей.
People are crying out, choking from happiness,
And moaning so sweetly, and breathing so often,
That [they] want to move faster with every second,
Making, making, making new people.
Думают люди в Ленинграде и Риме,Что смерть – это то, что бывает с другими
Что жизнь так и будет крутить и крутить колесо.
Слышишь, на кухне замерли стрелки часов.
People think, in Leningrad and Rome,
That death–this is something that happens to others1
That life is just so and the wheel will spin and spin.
You can hear, in the kitchen, the clock has stopped2.
Но ничего-ничего, погрустит и забудет.Через время появятся новые люди.
Едут троллейбусы без габаритных огней.
Люди ночами делают новых людей.
But nothing, nothing, will be mourned  and forgotten.
In time, new people will appear.
The trolleys will drive without driving lamps.
People at night make new people.
 Люди кричат, задыхаясь от счастья,И стонут так сладко, и дышат так часто,
Что хочется двигаться с каждой секундой быстрей
Делая, делая, делая новых людей.
People are crying out, choking from happiness,
And moaning so sweetly, and breathing so often,
That [they] want to move faster with every second,
Making, making, making new people.
Людям так нравится делать новых людей.  People so love making new people.

1. The first two lines of this verse form, like, the only phrase I could understand without checking Wiktionary and yeah, that seems about right.^
2. This is using the same word for stopped/frozen (wrt time) as the first verse (wrt the trolleybus), which is probably significant? If one were actually trying to find non-literal meaning in these, anyway, and one believes that every single word in a text is the result of a Specific Conscious Choice by the writer. ^

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