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on 14 March 2006
I have all the Pogues albums and this is simply my favourite. It depends how you like your Pogues - if you like them rough, rowdy and catchy, go for an earlier album. Although I like the rowdy stuff (and there is still plenty of it on this album), for me the genius of the Pogues is the amazing melodies and lyrics that Shane can suddenly hit you with and completely disarm you.
For me, this is the melodic and lyrical high point, with Shane finding new inspiration (and even contentment) in the Far East. The genius of the album is that there is a Far Eastern dreamlike quality but it isn't at all contrived - Shane has just absorbed it effortlessly. For me the album shows a whole different side to the band.
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on 9 April 2007
This is one of my favourite Pogues/Macgowan productions. Any album which has 'Summer in Siam' has got to be owned. The album didn't receieve any sparkling reviews, so now time has passed by i think it's marvellous frame should be picked up, dusted off, shown to a stool and given a large drink. It deserves it.
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on 25 July 2012
In accordionist James Fearnley's recent Pogues biography 'Here Comes Everybody', the recording of Hells Ditch seems to have been such a difficult, heart-breaking experience that you can understand why this record hardly ever seems to be mentioned by the band. According to Fearnley the relationship between the Pogues (by now a water tight, virtuoso unit) and lead singer/songwriter Shane Macgowan was all but dead. Macgowan turned up to recording drunk, if he turned up at all, slurring the words of the songs, and then disappearing again. So why is Hells Ditch so brilliant?

First and foremost, this is Macgowan's last hurrah. He provides 9 songs for the album (including co-writes) and each is an absolute winner. 'The Sunny Side of the Street', 'Sayonara' and 'Rain Street' are among the finest songs on the bands career. Then there is the beautiful, dream like 'Summer In Siam'. Like nothing the band had recorded before. 'Lorca's Novena' is a heartfelt tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca which lyrically and musically links back perhaps to the 'Straight to Hell' soundtrack that both The Pogues and Joe Strummer contributed to, as well as starring in the movie. 'The House of the Gods' is a joyful pop song, albeit a thinly veiled plea to tell the rest of The Pogues to leave him alone. "I've found a place that you'll never reach, sipping Singha beer on Pataya Beach". It's not quite Macgowan's 'Should I stay or Should I Go' but it's not far off.

The second reason this is such a brilliant album is the musicianship of the rest of the Pogues. By this stage they're such a good band that they blend together perfectly on every song. Check out the instrumental Maidrin Rua (trans. Little Red Dog, a tradional symbol of Irish rebellion). This was just a jam of a traditional Irish song that Strummer got down on tape. You can even hear the band tuning up at the start of the song. It's a strange and pretty wonderful highlight of the album. It's perhaps the only 'Irish' moment on the record. This lack of Irishness seems to be another reason why people have dismissed Hells Ditch in the past. But that completely ignores the diversity and invention of previous Pogues albums.

Last and by no means least Hell's Ditch is a great album thanks to producer Joe Strummer. Whereas previous album Love and Peace is overblown, over produced, and over played, Hell's Ditch is direct, organic, full of life. According to Fearnley, Joe Strummer was massively enthusiastic at the sessions. Dressed in Stetson, sleeping at the studio, he got The Pogues to play football round the back of the studio, building the camaraderie in the same way The Clash had done for the recording of London Calling. No one believed in The Pogues more than Joe Strummer. Indeed when Macgowan bowed out shortly after completing the album and they needed a singer who should step up to the plate?
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on 19 February 2012
While most Pogues fans with a taste for things Irish roundly condemn Hell's Ditch it is a good record. Certainly it is far superior to Peace and Love. When Peace and Love was released MacGowan told anyone who would listen that the band had abandoned its Irish roots. "They were trying to divorce themselves from the Irish thing," he complained. With Hell's Ditch the divorce was finalized and MacGowan had lost custody of the leprechauns. Panning a record because it has no Irish flavor, however, is shortsighted at best. By that standard, Rubber Soul and Highway 61 are dismal. If Hell's Ditch had been released by another band and therefore not compared to the Pogues' first three LPs, more listeners would recognize it for the wonderful rock album it is. MacGowan's voice is ragged, but it drips with attitude and oozes anger. Perhaps producer Joe Strummer's punk sensibilities made the difference. Perhaps the fact that Finer and MacGowan collaborated more than they had done on Peace and Love made the difference. Whatever the reason, it's a damn fine post-Irish Pogues LP. MacGowan co-wrote nine of the album's thirteen songs. To be sure, the record continued down the fusion path. "Maidrin Rua," a traditional instrumental, is the only straight up Irish number on the disc. Most of the album, despite typical Pogues' acoustic instrumentation, rocks hard. Only three cuts use an electric guitar. While there are some other instruments that the band didn't normally use in the past, they're not those typically found in a rock band. For instance, Finer played a hurdy-gurdy he built himself, and Fearnley used a sitar on one track. Under Joe Strummer's production, however, the overall sound is not what you'd expect from mandolins, mandolas, citterns, auto harps, accordions, concertinas, tin whistles, banjos and the like.
"Sunny Side of the Street," "The Ghost of a Smile," and "Rain Street" rock the best. None of the three reach the lyrical heights MacGowan had attained in the past, but two of the tracks boast lines any rock and roller would be proud to have penned. "Sunny Side of the Street" was co-written with Jem Finer. Lyrically, his contribution was the title, which was used in the refrain. The best of what Shane contributed came in the opening verse: "Seen the carnival at Rome. Had the women, had the booze. All I can remember now is little kids without no shoes." "Rain Street" is one of the album's strongest tracks. Its focus on a particular street brings to mind Dylan's "Desolation Row." The depiction of MacGowan's street is far more stripped down than Dylan's classic, but no less compelling. Crammed with Christian imagery, it is peopled with priests in a bar (one with a venereal disease), St. Anthony, Judas, and Jesus himself. For good measure a singing drunk and a young girl hocking her wedding ring are thrown into the mix. My favorite verse is the second: "Down the alley the ice wagon flew, picked up a stiff that was turning blue. The local kids were sniffing glue. Not much else for a kid to do on Rain Street."
The musical fusion MacGowan lamented is blatant in three of his own songs: "Lorca's Novena," "Hell's Ditch," and "Five Green Queens and Jean" (the last two co-written with Finer). "Lorca's Novena" is about the execution of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish folk hero killed by pro-Franco forces during the Spanish Civil War. The music is unusual, even by Pogues' standards. It builds gradually and dramatically with a distinctive Spanish feel. The album's title cut, "Hell's Ditch" centers on Jean Genet, a homosexual French writer who spent a great deal of his life in prison, some of it in Spain. Musically, the track feels Spanish and Mideastern at the same time, acknowledging, as so much Spanish music does, Muslim influences dating back to the middle ages. "Five Green Queens and Jean" is the best of these three cuts. Lyrically sparse, the song defies interpretation. MacGowan has said the five green queens refer to a dice game where one surface of each die depicts a queen colored green. MacGowan intended the track to be recorded with just an acoustic guitar but was overruled. The final arrangement was probably intended to sound Spanish as well, but to an American ear it brings Mexico to mind. Terry Woods' mandolin playing is perfect, and James Fearnley's accordion work would make Flaco Jimenez proud.
"Sayonara," "House of Gods," and "Summer in Siam" have been called MacGowan's Thailand trilogy. All three are set in the Far-eastern nation where Shane has so often retreated for R & R. As one would expect, there's little of the Dubliners' influence evident on these cuts. The songs are loaded with references to Thailand's beaches, whiskey, beer, and women. All three work quite nicely, especially "Summer in Siam." Lyrically the song is spare, more so than anything else MacGowan has written. Apart from repetition, there are just six lines and 27 words. It is none the less beautiful. MacGowan calls it a musical haiku. The music, complete with a kalimba, harp, and congas, is slow, soft, and elegant.
Hell's Ditch may not sound like a Pogues' album, but it sounds very good. Rake at the Gates of Hell: Shane MacGowan in Context
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Whilst failing to recapture the glory days of `If I should fall...' , the last time Shane McGowan formally recorded with The Pogues is by universal consent a big improvement on the rather lamentable `Peace and Love'.

The band is tight, the songs better. `Sunny Side of the Street' bounces along with a catchy refrain, and `Rain Street' is maybe the album's stand-out track. Thailand made a profound impression on McGowan: `Summer in Siam' captures the mood of the SE Asian country to perfection, the hard-edged cynicism so often prevalent in his songs completely absent and replaced by a languid tropical bliss. `Sayonara' and `House of Gods' continue the oriental theme, endowing `Hell's Ditch' with a warmth absent from other Pogues records.

The sound of the album is very good, a result usually attributed to producer Joe Strummer. Following `Hell's Ditch' The Pogues continued to perform (punctuated by long periods absent from the scene) but rarely fronted again by McGowan, marking out these recordings a kind of last-hurrah of a great 1980s phenomenon.
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on 20 February 2015
It's not their best album, but it's not their worst either. The bonus tracks on this album are brilliant though, so don't get the ordinary released version.
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After the disappointment of `Peace and Love' everyone was hoping for a return to form for The Pogues and particularly song smith Shane MacGowan on this their fifth album. Enlisting Joe Strummer of The Clash fame as the producer was reported in the press to be coaxing the best performances from MacGowan in years. Also reported was that MacGowan's writers block had cleared up and we anticipated a real return to form.

The album starts unbelievably brightly with the fantastic `The Sunnyside of the Street' and continues apace through `Sayonara' and `The Ghost of a Smile'. Things slow down with `Hell's Ditch' and `Lorca's Novena' a brace of very dark compositions which highlight to power of MacGowan's craft. The closing track of side one is MacGowan's mantra `Summer in Siam' which was released as a single and is very highly thought of in Pogues circles, I have to say I think it's rubbish.

Side two starts even brighter than side one with `Rain Street' which is undoubtedly my favourite Pogues song of all time and a definite contender for my favourite song of all time. This is followed by `Rainbow Man' which together with the other Terry Woods composition on the album `Six to Go' are completely dispensable. `The Wake of the Medusa' is Jem Finer's contribution to the writing and Spider Stacy contribution to the vocals, fits well into the Pogues cannon and thematic and style wise similar to `Hell's Ditch' and `Lorca's Novena' on side one. Apart from the obligatory traditional instrumental `Maidrin Rua' it's all over except for the last two MacGowan songs `House of the Gods' and `Five Green Queens and Jean' which although possibly not his greatest songs are amiable enough.

Possibly not a complete return to the form of `Red Roses for Me', `Rum, Sodomy and the Lash' and `If I Should Fall From Grace with God' but still a great album. However Shane MacGowan's decision not to tour the album caused it to not be a huge commercial success and led to The Pogues sacking him, possibly the worst case of career suicide ever.
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on 22 March 2015
Took a few listens, but now can't stop playing it!
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on 2 March 2016
pleased with it
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on 15 August 2015
Top seller.
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