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World Music CD Reviews Celtic & Irish

The Pogues

By Phil Freeman
Published March 30, 2007

Red Roses For Me
Rum Sodomy & The Lash
If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Peace & Love
Hell’s Ditch


The Pogues invented the whole Celtic-punk thing. Their first three albums, newly reissued by Rhino alongside the two more eclectic follow-up discs, showed that it was possible to inject raw aggression and a healthy dose of barroom nihilism into traditional Irish music, and in the process cause clubs and ballrooms full of screaming drunks to jump up and down until the floorboards buckled. Fronted by peg-toothed bawler Shane MacGowan (who, rather like Motörhead’s equally hoarse Lemmy Kilmister, could be surprisingly subtle when the mood struck him), the band turned reels into stomps, playing guitars, fiddles and tin whistles with raucous abandon but never giving in to mere chaos.

These albums have been beautifully remastered: the sound is clearer, but not over-compressed into painful loudness the way so much rock is these days. Red Roses For Me and Rum Sodomy & The Lash established their reputation as hard-drinking, hard-playing bastards right off the bat, as the band crashed through songs like “The Sickbed Of Cuchulainn” and the absurd “Waxie’s Dargle,” only to balance them out with melancholy weepers like “The Auld Triangle” and the epic version of “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” that closes Sodomy. By the third album, they’d begun to incorporate influences from beyond the Emerald Isle, demonstrating a particular (and obviously Spaghetti Western-inspired) affinity for Spanish guitars and horn charts on “Fiesta,” from If I Should Fall. (It was around this time that they turned up playing a coffee-addicted, mariachi-garbed crew of assassins in Alex Cox’s bizarre movie Straight To Hell.) On the final two discs, Hell’s Ditch and Peace & Love, the sonic globetrotting got a little out of hand, as song titles like “Lorca’s Novena” and “Summer In Siam” indicate, but the band could still throw down hard when they felt the urge.

Each of these discs has at least a half-dozen bonus tracks appended (Hell’s Ditch has seven), including the Poguetry In Motion and Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Eps and various outtakes and alternate versions. Even without them, these would be essential purchases. Crank ’em up, throw some shots back, and stomp about the place.