Some people are born with a voice that can charm the angels from heaven, some are born with a vocal range that could conjure the demons from the ground and destroy cities and then there is those who are born to sing in the bar with the rest of the band playing as if the devil himself is the ringleader and they are the last gang in town. Shame MacGowan firmly of the later box - he has a face that only his mother could love, but has a voice that draws such emotions that it is almost unreal. Back by the rest of The Pogues who are from London, UK and not Ireland as some websites I visited today have stated (look a little people!!!!), but maybe people get confused due to their name - it derives from pogue mahone being the anglicisation of the Irish póg mo thóin, meaning "kiss my arse". To be honest, doing songs with The Dubliners and sounding the way they do I can see why people get confused, but they are firmly from the UK. This was their third release in 1998 and it is their most successful album when you look at their chart positions. It also contains one of their most famous songs, which is played every Christmas....yes, THAT one. Now before I start I would like to point out I will be reviewing the 2005 reissue, mainly due to this being the version on Spotify. If they had the original, I would go for that, but what can you do....so how does the album hold up?
From the world go, the band place their stall slap bang in the middle of jig with the title track, MacGowen's vocal sounding like they were formed in whiskey and bathed in many a late night. After this is it start onto the amazing "Turkish Song Of The Damned" give the traditional song of the pub an Arabic vibe which I have not gotten out of my head since. Then afterwards you have "Bottle Of Smoke" has a great stomp and a big helping of swearing that my Dad forgot to mention when he was playing this to me as I grew up; then we get to THAT song. The song in question is called "Fairytale of New York" and in the UK at least it is probably slowly but surely becoming the nation's favourite Christmas tune. However, just because it starts with the words "It was Christmas Eve babe" does not make it a happy tune. This song is the story of an old couple in their dying days arguing and fighting like they always have, but this time it is serious. Sang with the sadly late Kirsty MacColl, it is one of those songs which will light up a room with the approximate amount of shite singing that only folk music can muster.
One thing this album has is a lot of it is amazing little jigs, pan-pipes, banjos and guitars a-plenty - and they know when to bring each the forefront only when it is needed, and then they also know when to bring only one or two of them to the limelight and leave the rest in the background. One of the best examples of this for me is "Thousands Are Sailing" a song which documents the Irish going over to America and how the golden dream was not always what it seems. Also on the ballad front you have the aptly titled "The Broad Majestic Shannon" showing that this bunch of drunken bastards do have a soft side somewhere in their black darkened hearts. So, job well done then? Well, yes and no to be honest. It has many positives that it hurts, also it seems to be an album that feels like it was played in my youth (more than likely it was, my dad is very big on this type of thing so when I next see him I will find out if I have listened to it before). Yet there is one problem I see....
This is such a celtic folk punk album that it was have one side of a room jumping for joy and ready to cross the border to take a castle/pub in a fight, whilst the other side of the room will be shaking their head and reaching for the latest hipster marketed i-Gaga fandangled manufactured piece of shite. It is for a certain type of music fan and it will not be for the people who are only interested in the latest fashion, until it becomes fashionable again - and anyone that says Munford & Sons will deserve a slap. These guys were one of the last gangs in town, even if they became a pastiche of themselves - this is them at their finest, with fire in their bellies, a fight in their eye and their collective sight placed on your partner and drink. Sound of the past and as relevant today as it was in the 80's.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
You can purchase the album from Amazon here in one of the various formats
You can visit the Pogues website here
You can listen to the album on Amazon here
Here is a live version of "Thousands Are Sailing"