975 - Pogues 'If I Should Fall From Grace With God' (1988)

My Rating: 2.54 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): 3/88

Favourite Tracks: If I Should Fall From Grace With God, Bottle of Smoke, Worms
Least-Favourite Track: Streets Of Sorrow/Birmingham Six (because of the lame
chorus, not the lyrical content)

As a spotty-faced youth back in the 80s I spent a lot of time in the Irish clubs in London, so listening to this album conjures up some strange disjointed images from the past. Sounds like some clichéd stereotype but it was pretty riotous - absolutely everyone really was smoking, drinking, laughing & (occasionally) fighting (well that's how I remember it anyway). I have a bizarre memory of one particular comedian who used to drag tramps in off the street & dress them up as women. They made quite a grotesque spectacle on stage in flouncy dresses & full make-up, especially as he'd then generally abuse them & kick them up the arse as part of his act. They'd endure it all on the promise of free Guinness & I'd see them drunkenly flailing around later in the night still wearing smeared lipstick & mascara.

The bands that played the Irish club circuit were generally pretty riotous too, but also patriotic, nostalgic & cheeky & listening to this album The Pogues seem rooted in much the same tradition. I like the way they update the traditional storytelling ballad form using modern subject matter - Bottle Of Smoke tells the tale of a big win at the horse track in Shane MacGowan's inimitable style ('The moon is clear / The sky is bright / I'm as happy as horses' shite'). And I think MacGowan is the key here; his lyrics are poetic, witty, irreverent & drenched in nostalgia & historical imagery; his voice is bristling with character & passion. Moreover the tracks that don't feature MacGowan tend to fall a little flat, as without him they can sound like any other 'fiddley-diddley' band. Similarly I felt that another key ingredient was the band's energy; on the faster tracks there's a manic punky influence that really works alongside the traditional Irish instruments, whereas on the slower, reflective numbers the band loses much of its originality & can sound like any number of bands that used to play the clubs. That's not to say that it's exclusively Irish - there's a European flavour on Fiesta, Worms & Turkish Song Of The Damned that allied with the evocative lyrics sounds very much like late-era Tom Waits. All in all an enjoyable listen - shame it reminds me of grizzled old men in bras & tights.


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