1988 – Island
Folk/ Punk/ Celtic
This record from Irish-inspired folk-punks The Pogues is a real kicker with a great mixture of toe-tapping jigs, Celtic ballads, and wild, boozy reels. It opens up with the brilliant title track which just gets me up on me feet almost every time hat I hear it – it’s just so pounding and danceable. The follow up track, Turkish Song of The Damned, is equally brilliant as it skirts the line between gothic ghost-story and traditional Irish sea-faring jig, and the instrumentation (featuring banjo, tin whistle, accordion, and other traditional instruments thrown in with the traditional rock band line up) is wonderful in both its simplicity of melody and its complexity of arrangement.
Singer Shane MacGowan’s voice works perfectly throughout the album (although there are a few tracks on which he is not the vocalist), even if it is a little hard to understand at times. His slurring and screams work very well to create an atmosphere of rambunctious rebellion and drunken danger, and the songs are crafted in a way that you just want to down a bottle of whiskey and rant along, although I would suggest that if you feel like doing this you might want to have a copy of the lyrics to hand.
Where this record really hits full stride though is in Fairytale of New York. This track is perhaps one of the most accessible on the album, especially for those not particularly fond or familiar with the traditions of Irish music, and it’s lovely in its heartfelt lamentations and evocations of shattered dreams mixed in with The Pogues’ usual tongue in cheek humour.
Metropolis, the follow up track to Fairytale of New York, really isn’t one of the best on the album unfortunately, and, for me, it breaks up a nice flow between Fairytale and Thousands Are Sailing, which, I believe, would have worked better side by side with their similar thematic preoccupations and musical styles. In fact, I might go so far as to say that Metropolis is just a rather weak song in the middle of a very good album. It’s not terrible, but the blaring horn section doesn’t really work for me and its musical style doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the rest of the record. It does bare some slight similarity perhaps to the Spanish styled Fiesta, but it just doesn’t seem to be quite so successful.
Really I think this album is at its best when the band embrace their obvious folk leanings, like in tracks such as South Australia and Bottle Of Smoke. The dabbling with other styles like in Metropolis and Fiesta, while good, just really isn’t where the band’s strength lies. But despite these two tracks (which are really only slightly below the group’s average) I would say that If I Should Fall From Grace With God is really an excellent album. It’s an amazing amount of fun, but that heel-clicking frivolity is cut nicely with some much more serious folk tracks, and they too are just as rousing as the others.
If you’re not much of a fan of the Celtic folk tradition then it might not be your cup of tea, but I would still strongly recommend that you give it a go.
Here is one of my personal favourite tracks from The Pogues’ 1988 record ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’
- “Rum , Sodomy & The Lash” by The Pogues (espiritoindomito.wordpress.com)
- Top 10 Faux Celtic Punk and Folk Bands (toptenz.net)