|1. If I Should Fall From Grace With God|
|2. Turkish Song Of The Damned|
|3. Bottle Of Smoke|
|4. Fairytale Of New York|
|6. Thousands Are Sailing|
|8. Medley: The Recruiting Sergeant / The Rocky Road To Dublin / Galway Races|
|9. Streets Of Sorrow / Birmingham Six|
|10. Lullaby Of London|
|11. Sit Down By The Fire|
|12. The Broad Majestic Shannon|
|14. The Battle March Medley|
|15. The Irish Rover|
|16. Mountain Dew|
|17. Shanne Bradley|
|18. Sketches Of Spain|
|19. South Australia|
This is the sound and style that the Pogues had been leading up to, already appearing on Top of the Pops with the Dubliners to perform the Irish Rover and getting some great notices for their previous album, the Costello produced classic Rum Sodomy & the Lash, but this seemed to go further, making the Pogues sound relevant to even mainstream radio stations, but without that nagging feeling of compromise. It's as if the band actually set out to make a more commercial record; so naturally the whole thing (melody, lyrics, instrumentation and production) have been lovingly put together and, as a result of this, the whole thing just flows perfectly to create a great listening experience that never feels laboured. For me, every song remains an absolute joy, from the title track that kicks things off (with it's potent and poetic depictions of a Spanish civil war battle ground, infused with furious instrumentation and those trademark, screaming vocals) to that perennial yuletide favourite, Fairytale of New York.
Along with the storming ode to Costa-del-excess that is Fiesta, If I Should Fall From Grace and Fairytale show the Pogues at their polished best... so, if you like these three tracks you will undoubtedly love the rest of the album. There's no filler here. It's as if Lilywhite and the band have taken everything that was great about those first two Pogues albums (Red Roses for Me is an absolute must!), cleaned them up, re-worked the arrangements and cranked up the levels so not only is the whole thing a joy to listen to, but it also makes a great party album (...particularly songs like Bottle of Smoke, South Australia and the above-mentioned Fiesta). MacGowan's writing was becoming more and more confident and evocative, even rivalling his old mate Nick Cave on tracks like Turkish Song of the Damned (in which Shane seems to be going for a personal best on the 'profanity-meter'), Fairytale of New York (a Christmas song that cuts through the schmaltz and shows the festive season to be the hellish living death that it really is), The Broad Majestic Shannon (which has a melody lifted from Fairytale and was supposed to be the follow up single... until the suits at Stiff records stepped in) and of course, the antagonistic Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six.
This is easily one of the most important songs in the Pogues back-catalogue, beginning as it does with Terry Woods' plaintive and poetic composition The Streets of Sorrow, which is more in tune with the traditional folk of people like Christy Moore (who has covered the song) and Ralph McTell, before an escalating drum beat and quickly strummed acoustic guitar leads us effortlessly into the MacGowan penned punk/folk/rant The Birmingham Six, which takes the titular issue head-on with confrontational, anti-establishment lyrics ("there were six men in Birmingham, in Guildford there's four, they were picked up and tortured and framed by the law... and the filth got promoted, while they're still doing time, for being Irish in the wrong place and at the wrong time"), which saw the song banned by the BBC (...which may still be in place to this day). The fact that this song seems to be missing from this re-mastered addition is criminal... let's just hope it's some 'editorial' mistake.
The integration of the different band members is here stronger than ever (Rum Sodomy & the Lash seemed to be dominated by MacGowan, whilst follow up album Peace and Love would be a much messier affair), with MacGowan writing three classics by him self as well as co-writing with Jem Finer on at least four of the standout tracks included herein. Much more surprisingly, we have the Phillip Chevron composition Thousands are Sailing, which adds a touch of contemporary power pop into the Pogue folk mix (sounding like the Cranberries or U2 if they'd been fronted by MacGowan). The song has a strong sense of evocation and a great chorus ("thousands are sailing across the western oceans, to the land of opportunity, that some of them will never see..."), whilst Chevron would go on to pen the best song on Peace and Love - that other Kirsty MacColl duet Lorelei - which made it all the more heartbreaking that Chevron didn't follow up the Pogues with a solo album.
Though I've always preferred the first two Pogues albums for their rawness and their undiluted sense of energy, I do love this particular album, which features some of the band's very best compositions and is easily the best introduction to their music. After this, the band would succumb to personal problems that would seriously affect their next two albums, Peace and Love and the Joe Strummer produced Hell's Ditch. This great re-issue (every Pogues album re-released with relevant b-sides and a re-mastered sound!!) is a perfect addition to any record collection (though those of us who already have the original CD release - which did include Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six - may be less inclined to make the purchase). At any rate... at this current price, who's complaining?
The Pogues really found their feet on this record without losing a drop of the alcohol-induced rawness that made them one of the few real live bands of the eighties. The opening (title)track has Shane singing of God and death in a way that makes you want to waste all your money and shout 'fuck you', with a tune that gets in your head and stays there. The 'Turkish Song of the Damned' is full of spectral imagery, a tale of dead sailors and a wailing old woman. The Pogues give it a taste of the East but end with a rousing, punk-injected Irish jig, All this, apparently inspired by a German fan mispronouncing 'The Turkey Song' by The Damned.
'Bottle of smoke' flies along with all the pace of a Cheltenham gold cup winner. A day at the races pissed up and pissed off until it romps home at twenty-fucking-five to one. Marvellous.
Next comes 'Fairy Tale of New York'; drugs, booze and broken hearts in an Irish-American Christmas card, guaranteed to make you laugh and cry at the same time, possibly the best Christmas song ever written.
Beautifully written by Phil Chevron, 'Thousands Are sailing' tells of the Irish leaving for America full of hope and fear. It's about leaving the place you love and the loneliness of a man far away from home. MacGowan's emotive rendition makes this the highlight of the album.
'Fiesta' is a shambolic extravaganza of a tune: MacGowan, 90mph in pidgin Spanish. To quote the man himself, "It's just about a bunch of wankers going to Spain in the Summer".
'Medley' starts with Terry Woods dueting with MacGowan on 'The Recruiting Sergeant', making yet another traditional song their own. Throwing themselves head-first into the instrumental 'Rocky Road To Dublin' and rounding it all off with Shane not stopping for breath on 'Galway Races'.
On 'Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six'. Woods's lament builds into MacGowan's ballad of justice and brutality, 2 songs that manage to capture a fearful (close to home)reality.
'Lullaby of London' is a song that gives you butterfly guts whenever you hear it. Yet another MacGowan original, poetic and beautiful. 'Sit Down By The Fire' is a rampant jig about the telling of ghost stories to your kids, with the vintage refrain 'Goodnight and God bless, now fuck off to bed'.
'The Broad Majestic Shannon' is a song of Shane's lost Tipperary childhood and happy times now gone forever, and virtually rounds off an album of beautifully written songs, some played to touch your heart, others to kick you squarely in the bollocks, but none are forgettable. The final track 'Worms' has Andrew Rankine sounding like he's singing from the bottom of a well. It sums up the dark yet comic side of the album and, indeed, the band.
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