THE POGUES – If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988)
Best song: “Fairytale Of New York”
The Pogues were of course not an Irish band... London, England. And even Shane MacGowan, that most Irish man on planet Earth, was born in Kent. And bands like Flogging Molly (Los Angeles) or, say, Dropkick Murphys (Massachusetts) weren’t even considered for this list (they wouldn’t have made it anyway). But: certain band members indeed came from Ireland and, most importantly, The Pogues were the world’s most genuinely Irish band ever. Point stated.
So what makes The Pogues and Shane MacGowan so impossibly Irish? The fact that they put Joyce on the cover of one of their LP’s? The fact that Shane was born to Irish parents? The fact that he, according to his own claims, hasn’t spent a day completely sober since 16 or something? The fact that they played lots of traditional Irish music? No. It’s the vibe, that passionate, spirited, authentic feel. It’s that rambunctious gentleness that Irish culture is so imbued with. They make you laugh and dance one moment, then they make you weep in wistful sorrow the next. This sincere, spontaneous artistic conflict within The Pogues is really what makes them proper Irish. And this is the thing that Richard Ellmann’s brilliant book Four Dubliners taught me.
When it comes to The Pogues’ best album, the band’s fans tend to take sides. It is either the slightly more celebrated Rum, Sodomy & The Lash or, indeed, If I Should Fall From Grace With God. As it is seen from my choice, I’d go for the latter.
For me If I Should Fall… is a more expansive, sharper collection of songs. It has its quieter, lovelier bits, and then it has its wild, punkish, pub-rock delights. As for the former, I would mention such ballads as “Lullaby Of London”, “Streets Of Sorrow”, and, of course, the breathtaking “Fairytale Of New York” featuring the great Kirsty MacColl. “Fairytale Of New York” is this album’s “Rainy Night In Soho”, only it’s perhaps even better. The lyrics are even more poignant, and the tune is even more inspirational. But the whole thing is definitely bigger on those rockier, more riotous thrills. The genius belter that is the title track, the dance-inducing “Turkish Song Of The Dead”, the hair-raising “Thousands Are Sailing”, etc. And they are not just interpreters, The Pogues: this is original, highly charismatic music. And the band even managed to slightly expand their palette: “Fiesta”, for instance, is certainly not Celtic punk. I can hear Spanish and (drum roll) Russian (??) motifs there. An absolute maddening song.
The sheer joy this album brings is hard to describe. It has it all: humour, bawdiness, elegance, drama, fun. It has everything I might ask from an Irish album. Hell, from any album. Memorable, rough masterpiece, and unquestionably one of Ireland’s best album.
Irishness? Well, what else is there?
RECOMMENDATIONS. Everything by The Pogues is a must. Yes, and even those two post-MacGowan albums that everybody seems to look down upon. After all, who wants to live his life without ever hearing the pop gem that is “Tuesday Morning”?..