The hybrid of punk rock and world music is by now expected, and the Pogues are by now the known avatar. But in 1984, when the band's debut album, Red Roses For Me (Stiff), was released, it made no impression. It didn't sell, and it wasn't written about much. Their blend of Celtic folk and English punk rock was audacious, the songs sharp, and the audience nowhere to be found. The reasons for this range from that their label (Stiff) was being ignored by the guy running it, that the album itself wasn't as strong as it could have been, and so forth. Their follow-up, a year later, Rum, Sodomy, and The Lash (MCA in the States, Stiff in the UK), made a much bigger splash. While it did not make an enormous initial commercial dent in the States, it did find an audience (that Elvis Costello
It was as strong as it could have been. The blend of traditional folksongs, cover material, and Shane MacGowan's originalswhich were as good as the classic Ewan MacColl and Eric Bogle songs the band transformedtook root. The Pogues had found their approach, and the seeds of an audience were planted. In the next few years, world music found new audiences. It wasn't just the Pogues, but also Paul Simon
, Texas Tornados, and a few others. Like the Lobos, the Pogues had great songwriting and were usually a barnburning live act. In addition, they had a great angry Christmas song, "Fairytale Of New York," which included the line "Merry Christmas my darling/I hope it's our last."
Unfortunately, as their recording career progressed, returns diminished. McGowan's publicly enacted drinking problem had the artistic result of fewer good songs per album over the course of seven studio albums. That said, each album had something worth owning. So an eighteen song anthology of the band is handy. Very Best isn't the first such package, but it's in print, and has everything you'd hope, including "Fairytale," now a holiday classic is some quarters.
MacGowan's songs were as great as any of the period, and this is a period where Dave Alvin, Tom Waits, John Prine, Prince, Stan Ridgway, and Lyle Lovett were each at a peak. MacGowan's lyrics were evocative, and if anyone missed for a second that he was singing as an Irishman who came up on punk rock, there was Irish punk folk assault squad playing behind the lyrics, mixing distorted Sex Pistols guitars and overdriven rhythms with pennywhistles, accordions, and mandolins. It was a strong mix, at once brainy and earthy, and it worked. The delivery was never cheap or ironic, despite the humor of the songs. The band's take on Ewan McColl's "Dirty Old Town" is boisterous, to be sure, but there is no mistaking that these players love this song and consider it part of their musical DNA. And by the end of the track, they own the composition.
This reviewer bought all seven Pogues albums, but only thought the second and third were classic all the way through. I'll be fine with this set. It has everything, andbig bonus herethe remastering job is so good it shimmers (not always the case with Pogues discs). it's the best sounding Pogues record I've ever had.
For the uninitiated, here's an entry point. Before there was ever Flogging Molly, the Dropkick Murphys, or Gogol Bordello, there was the Pogues. And the Pogues on their best day are still as good as it gets. They were truly exciting.
Track Listing: Dirty Old Town; The Sunnyside Of The Street; If I Should Fall From
Grace With God; The Irish Rover; Rain Street; A Pair Of Brown Eyes;
Boys From The County Hell; Fairytale Of New York; Body Of An American;
Thousands Are Sailing; Sally MacLennane; Misty Morning, Albert Bridge;
Tuesday Morning; Rainy Night In Soho; Streams Of Whiskey; The Sickbed
Of Cúchulainn; Young Ned Of The Hill; Love You ’Till The End.
Personnel: Shane MacGowan: lead vocals, guitar; James Fearnley: accordion; Terry
Woods: cittern, vocals; Philip Chevron: guitar, vocals; Spider Stacy: tin whistle, vocals; Andrew Ranken: drums; Jem Finer: banjo,
saxophone; Darryl Hunt: bass guitar; Kirsty MacColl: vocals (8).