Monday, January 28, 2013

Jingle Bloody Jangle


Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: The Pogues, Red Roses for Me. The volume, tempo, and attitude are certainly in the neighborhood of punk, but I'd forgotten how otherwise traditional the trappings of the Pogues' sound were, especially on this rowdy 1984 debut. If my ears are not mistaken, the persistent thrum on the bottom end comes from the bodhran (though there's an electric bass in there, too), and the lead parts are all taken by pennywhistle, banjo, and above all Jamie Fearnley's singing accordion. And the sheer joy unleashed by marrying major-key Irish folk to hard-driving rock intensity is still palpable after all these years, even if it's almost too much of a good thing; one can almost get a contact drunk from this record's relentless odes to drinking, puking, fighting, poverty, and rough weather.

Indeed, maybe punk is the wrong reference point; there's something about the sweary, swaggering, prideful malevolence of Shane McGowan's lyrics and vocal phrasing that almost puts me in mind of gangsta rap. And like the best of that genre, it's not just mean, it's so mean it's often funny, and fun; it's hard to listen to the Grand Guignol romp "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go," for instance, without thinking a bit of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And I'm still grateful for the lesson of "Greenland Whale Fisheries," a song I knew from Peter, Paul, and Mary's rendition; in theirs a whaling captain regrets the loss of his men more than the loss of a whale, while in the Pogues, the captain's grief is coldly reversed. As with the many versions of the "Gallows Pole" will-no-one-save-me ballad, I'm not sure which of these is the most authentic. But for my money the Pogues make a convincing case, here and elsewhere, that the folk tradition is more about grit and greed and villainy than about the sad, pure, simple days of yore.

These London-Irish louts went on to make two arguably better records (Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God), but as an introduction to their exuberant Cheiftains-on-crack shtick, this Satanic seisun is hard to beat.

Comments:
Kerry Reid I've been on a Pogues kick lately.

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