Ireland's prodigal son, or whiskey-sodden tragedy case? As frontman for the Pogues, Shane MacGowan always managed to combine the two into one gloriously drunken whole. In the years between 1983 and 1991, the Pogues released five albums marrying the melodies of traditional Irish folk to the energy of punk-rock and rockabilly. The Ultimate Collection
comprises a complete compilation of all their essential tunes over 2 CDs. On CD One contains all the chart hits, and CD 2 contains the audio of their legendary concert a Brixton Academy. Standout tracks include "Dirty Old Town", "The Irish Rover" and "Fairytale of New York".
Following on from the remastered editions of all seven of their studio albums, The Pogues release The Ultimate Collection, a celebration of that body of work with a second CD of live material recorded at the Brixton Academy in 2001.
It's difficult not to put the words 'MacGowan' and 'genius' together in the same sentence. For those of you that wonder why, disc one opens with "A Rainy Night In Soho", in which MacGowan exhibits his rare way with words and ability to take something horrible and make it sound beautiful, delicate and, of course, intoxicating.
But it's a shame that he alone is hailed as such a talent, because there were other geniuses in the band. "Fairytale Of New York" was co-written by Jem Finer - the Flann O'Brien de Selby-esque character behind "Longplayer", a piece of music set to run for 1,000 years. Also present were Terry Woods, who formed Steeleye Span, and Philip Chevron, who penned the Christy Moore favourite "Faithful Departed". And then, of course, there were another four amazing musicians at any one time. Phew!
It is a further shame that The Pogues are legends only in Irish folk music, for they brought so much more to the music world than the 'deedle-idly-dum' stuff. Don't get me wrong, their deedly-idles were far from dum, it's just that they ploughed other musical lands and far-away plains: "Fiesta" is a journey through a festival-filled Spanish village with bulls and all; "Summer In Siam" is one verse repeated three and a half times in a heavenly eastern dream; "London Girl" is MacGowan's hat-tip to northern soul (speaking of which, where is "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!"?).
When you look at who produced The Pogues' albums - Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer and U2's Steve Lilywhite amongst others - you'd be forgiven for thinking that they might not be able to pull it off live, especially with MacGowan's notorious alcohol and drug intake. Thankfully, the 2001 recording included here stands as a testament that they could, and much more brilliantly than you might think. --Cormac Heron
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