Another unrequested review from me :thumb:
The Pogues are a very well known, if under-appreciated in their time, Irish folk band. Their main asset (in my eyes at least, though I suspect in many others) was their main vocalist, Shane McGowan. He is/was (I don't know if he's still alive, though he no longer plays with the Pogues) a fantastic lyricist, a kind of corrupted version of classic Irish folk writers, and also a heavy drinker and an ugly guy.
Some people find his voice annoying, and he definitely wouldn't win an award for singing ability, but his accent, and the gravelly, rough edge his voice has, was perfect for the songs the Pogues (and, later, the Popes) made.
The Pogues, on this album at least, were:
- Main vocals, guitar.
- Drums, vocals, harmonica and other percussion.
- Tin Whistle, vocals.
- Accordion, piano, mandolin, dulcimer*, guitar, cello, percussion.
- Bass, percussion, vocals.
- Guitar, mandolin, vocals.
- Banjos, mandola, saxophone.
- Cittern, concertina, mandola, tenor banjo, dulcimer*, guitar, vocals.
Additional musicians used for - trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone, spoons, harp and bodhran*, and several people (including "The Man From the Indian Takeaway" and "Brian From the Off-license") in a choir for ensemble choruses.
Looks like a folk band, doesn't it?
1. If I Should Fall From Grace With God
The first and title track kicks off the album in a fine style, with a cheery, fast-paced melody based around an accordion. The lyrical content isn't specifically drink-related (they're actually about literally falling out with God and just being buried in the mud, with a little proud-to-be-Irish thrown in) but its still a fine tavern tune. A great way to start.
2. Turkish Song of the Damned
This is a lyrically narrative song, about the ghosts of people killed in a shipwreck bearing a grudge against someone still living. The music is slower than the opener, and than the track which follows it, and has a slightly Eastern feel to it. The title of the song apparently comes from an English-as-a-second-language fan who attempted to request The Turkey Song by The Dam
ned. I think this track is well positioned, as it is between two faster tracks, and basically gives the listener time to catch their breath a little. Some extra guitars (or stringed instruments at least - I can't presume which is which with this many flying around) come in towards the end, as the song speeds up, which is a strong finish.
3. Bottle of Smoke
My first great love of the album. A tearingly fast track about winning on a horse and drink a-plenty in celebration, the lyrics are fast-paced and cuss-happy without being forced, and flow incredibly well. Some rowdy whooping and shouting only help the mood; I can't help but get excited listening to it, the chorus is maliciously catchy, and even now, 16 years after the album's original release, these first three tracks remain one of the strongest openings for an album I've ever heard.
4. Fairytale of New York
The best Christmas song ever, hands down. I'd be very surprised if anyone hasn't heard this song already. It features Kirsty MacColl, who unfortunately died in a boating accident a few years ago, but her voice, which is actually suited to singing, provides the perfect contrast to McGowan's rough tones in the duet. Its a love/hate song, and has one of my favourite exchanges ever:
KM: You're a bum, you're a punk,
SG: You're an old slut on junk, lying there, almost dead, on a drip in that bed,
KM: You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap, lousy faggot, Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last
, for being the most awesome Christmas song ever if nothing else.
This is an instrumental track, which gives the Pogues more of a chance to showcase their talents outside of McGowan's writing. Lots of different instruments get their chance, my favourite being what sounds like a piano which frequently plays to susatin the melody, although as there is no piano listed, I don't know what it actually is. About a minute and a half in, the song abandons the traditional folky tunes found throughout most of the album for a totally melodramatic TV theme-esque thing.
6. Thousands Are Sailing
This is often recognised by Pogues fans as the best track on the album, despite the presence of Fairytale..
. It's one of the tracks which shows that they are capable of maturity, rather than just alcohol-drenched drinking tunes. It owes a lot to Chevron's great guitar, which adds a wonderful melancholic feel to the song. The lyrics concern the Irish diaspora to America, questioning whether it will really work out, but also revelling in the Irish survival traits of religion, drink and dance, which should see them through. I think this song probably helped a lot of critics to see that McGowan could write on serious matters when he wanted.
7. South Australia
Vocals are by someone other than McGowan, though I have no idea who (just take your pick from the multitude of listed vocalists). Its purely a fun track, with fast, bouncy music (I love the drum breakdown in the middle) and throwaway lyrics that are fun to sing and shout along to, but don't really mean anything in particular. I think it serves a dual purpose - to lighten the mood after Thousands Are Sailing
, and to pave the way for the next track..
Thousands Are Sailing
's main competition in many fans eyes, as its "the ultimate party song". Although I've never really seen the attraction as a song, in a party situation, it does pretty much own anything else. I don't know if the main melody is original or not, but I've heard it elsewhere before, and I'd be very surprised if you haven't as well. The lyrics are fast (again) and brilliant to try and sing along to whilst pissed - half of them are in Spanish. One point - its listed as featuring Kirsty MacColl on vocals, but I can't spot where.
if you're drinking.
- The Recruiting Sergeant/Rocky Road to Dublin/Galway Races.
As it suggests, this is a medley of the above mentioned songs. The Recuiting Sergeant and Rocky Road to Dublin are practically indistinguishable, the only clue been that Some Guy stops singing, for McGowan to take over on the Rocky Road.. part. This minute and a half is a very political minute and a half, covering ground from the recruitment of Irishmen to fight English wars in WW1, to the sectarianism of the 80's ("Come rain or hail or wind or snow, I'm not going out to Flanders, oh there's fighting in Dublin to be done, let your Sergeant's and your Commanders go
"). Galway races is another high quality gambling song, with a nonsensical chorus ("With me wack fol the do fol the diddle idle day
"), though its completely at odds with the first half of the medley, both musically (its faster, more in tune with the opening three tracks than the first two part of this one) and in terms of subject matter.
10. Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six
The Streets of Sorrow part, with another Some Guy on vocals, is short, and very slow and sad, concentrating mainly on slow guitar picking. It is written by Terry Woods, and is a good example of what not to do if you don't wanna get banned - its a subtle protest, but a strong one at that. McGowan then crashes in with Birmingham Six, a bludgeoning version of Woods' quiet attack, concerning the Birmingham Six, six people (Irish amongst them) accused of killing 21 people in a pub, and wrongly imprisoned for 16 years before having their convictions overturned, and the Guildford Four, four people similarly wrongly accused and imprisoned (for killing 5 people in bombings of pubs in Guildford), and released after 15 years. The song earned a ban from the BBC. Despite its bludgeoning manner, McGowan expresses his anger deftly, and once agains earns my respect for his songwriting.
11. Lullaby of London
Another track showing McGowan's selective maturity. This is one of my less liked songs on the album, as I prefer the faster Pogues material, but it's a fine example of the variation in his songwriting, in the form of a relaxing lullaby to sing his child to sleep. If I'm in the mood for it, it gets a higher ranking in my mind, but overall
12. Battle March Medley
Again, not usually one of my favourite tracks, as I'm usually into the Pogues for the fantastic lyrics, but this instrumental piece is very good if I'm in the mood for it. Even if I'm not, the arrangements are interesting enough to keep me listening most of the time.
13. Sit Down by the Fire
Haven't got much to say about this one, except that its pretty funny. Its basically him going on a rant about the ghost stories he was told as a child, and its fairly fast and frantic. Fun, but not essential.
14. The Broad Majestic Shannon
Another song I don't listen to all that often - its more of a love song, though not really a ballad. Most notable of it to me is the amount of whistle work in it, though it is another with well-written lyrics that avoids the subject of drinking, and so proves McGowan's lyrical ability beyond that particular area.
This isn't a real song. It comes in at just over a minute, and is basically a funny little ditty about worms going in thin and coming out fat, complete with description of peoples eyes falling out as a result. Its just there for a laugh.
Overall, I give If I Should Fall From Grace With God a 4.5/5
There's debate over whether this album, or their earlier (this album was released 1988, the other in 1985) and less polished album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
, is the best Pogues disc. I go with IISFFGWG, as it has great drinking tunes (the first three tracks, Fiesta) like Rum, Sodomy..
, but also other great songs, such as Fairytale of New York
and Thousands Are Sailing
, showing the mature side of McGowan and the Pogues.
*if anyone can tell me what a dulcimer or a bodhran is, please do.