Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Pogues – The Very Best of the Pogues

The Very Best of the Pogues
Shout! Factory

When they burst on the scene in 1984 – 29 years ago – with their first LP, Red Roses for Me, the Pogues were something special playing traditional Irish folksongs, and some in-the-tradition contemporary material, with an attack that was equal parts Clancy Brothers and the Clash. By the second album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, a year later, their original material, good enough that much of it could be mistaken for traditional, was dominant.

The Pogues in their prime were a great band fronted by Shane McGowan, an inspired singer and songwriter, with a seeming predilection for self-destruction and unpredictability that meant their star shone all too briefly before flaming out.

The 18 songs included on The Very Best of the Pogues are drawn from all of the albums the Pogues released between 1984 and 1995 and provide a great introduction to the band. Most of the tracks feature McGowan but other Pogues take several lead vocals – including Spider Stacy on his “Tuesday Morning,” from Waiting for Herb, one of a couple of albums the Pogues released after McGowan burned out.

Among the highlights are such exceptional McGowan songs as the rousing “If I Should Fall from Grace with God,” “Sally MacLennane,” whose drunken main character seems like it could have been inspired by the author, and “Body of an American,” as great a song about an Irish wake as I’ve ever heard.

Of course, “Fairytale of New York,” McGowan’s fabulous duet with the late Kirsty MacColl, one of the best Christmas season songs ever, is included, as is their compelling version of Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town.”

Listening to these songs, I'm reminded how great the Pogues were in those days. The songs are as fresh and as vital now as they were back in the day – in fact, thanks to remastering, they sound better than ever.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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