JUBULENT IRISH FOLK-ROCK
To those for whom folk-rock conjures up images of Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Steeleye Span and even Tracey Chapman, the newly released album of the Pogues may come as quite a shock.
The cover photo prepares one immediately for the fact that Peace and Love is no ordinary creation of a nostalgic band of hairy hippies. A boxer poses clench-fisted for the camera. On his left knuckles is tattooed "LOVE," on his right "PEACE." For this to be possible his right hand needs five fingers in addition to a thumb. It has.
With the release of the Pogues' fourth album in the eight years since a furiously strumming Shane MacGowan first got the band together, it has become apparent that in contrast to other cult '80s bands the Pogues are managing to sell records, demand respect and - most important in an era of pop transcience - survive.
Perhaps the secret to the Pogues' success has been their jubilant mixing of old and new. The old in their case is folk - the Irish variety. Their new is somewhat more difficult to define; the firebrand enthusiasm of punk, the breakneck rhythm of rock; and the boozy intimacy that most people who have ever drunk alcohol have felt at least once in their lives.
So powerful was the Pogues' concoction that it had more than one listener swearing that God is a leprechaun.
Peace and Love stretched the limits of that formula, but success has not spoiled the Pogues. On the contrary, it may even have given them the confidence to attempt the gloriously outlandish - which no one else would dream of trying, and which only the Pogues could get away with.
How else to explain the roaring, rolling and unruly rhythms of the film noir jazz number "Gridlock", or the saddle-swinging, bourbon-drinking, tobacco-spitting Wild West sketch, "Night Train To Lorca"?
MacGowan's gap-toothed countenance, his blurred and ferocious singing, and the Pogues' frantic, heartfelt playing on instruments from accordions to mandolin are too powerful to let any logical inconsistencies stand in their way.
Here lies the root of the Pogue's worth; in the hectic but vivid "Boat Train" where you feel the grey sea spray of Hollyhead shower your face, and smell the stale drunken breath of the song's legless hero (or should that be villain?).
This uncanny ability to encapsulate experience in a few lines of words and a few bars of music is what makes the Pogues work. And it cuts through all stylistic boundaries. Hence "Lorelei" - a killingly quivering tale of love spread on a poignant melody, rough harmony and anguished guitar; hence "Cotton Fields" where wandering, chopping barroom riffs and an energetic backbeat turn a whimsical muse on mornings after into a piece of street philosophy of the highest order; and hence the bitter sadness on the demise of a great dogtrack on "White City."
Whatever the Pogues have or have not, few can match them for salient
social statement, for sheer poetry in music and words, and for the first,
and perhaps only, demand they make of themelves: that their music excite
both them and their audience.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.