6th November 2023
Remarkably, frontman of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan, is still alive and will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Wednesday. Having been released from hospital earlier this year, . MacGowan and The Pogues enjoyed a much celebrated 2020 which saw the release of Johnny Depp produced film ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’ and a Tim’s Twitter Listening Party of ‘Rum Sodomy & The Lash’. This is well deserved. The Pogues should not be defined by ‘Fairytale of New York’ and or indeed the dental circumstances of MacGowan. They should instead be defined by a catalogue of vastly enjoyable and important albums, the pinnacle of which is the subject of this article.
From the rollicking and explicit opener ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’ to the soft folky waltz closer ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, The Pogues on 1985’s ‘Rum Sodomy & The Lash’ deliver their best commercial effort. It is simultaneously breathless in its bawdiness and intently introspective. MacGowan has no voice of an angel, but his storytelling and brutally honest perspective on life ensure a passionate and fiery relationship develops between the listener and the Pogues on this album.
One would have a hard experience convincing fans of The Pogues that there is a better three-song-run on an album than ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, ‘Sally MacLennane’ and ‘Dirty Old Town’. ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ charmingly (and of course, drunkenly) details a story of an elderly veteran reminiscing to our narrator about his one true brown-eyed love who he lost in wartime. This leads our inebriated narrator to reflect upon his own unrequited love for another brown eyed girl. The drunken, lovesick turmoil of this song radiates beauty and some perverse form of comfort. MacGowan’s unique nonchalant drawl is wonderfully contrasting to his warm narrative. This contrast is part of what makes songs like ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ so special.
“I saw the streams, the rolling hills
Where his brown eyes were waiting
And I thought about a pair of brown eyes
That once waited for me”‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ The Pogues
Trying to find the words to describe ‘Sally MacLennane’ to someone who has not heard it is a difficult task. Think of everyone joyously dancing together in an Irish pub at 5pm. Oh and everyone’s drunk. At this point in the article this should go without saying. ‘Sally MacLennane’ is raucous and it details the rambunctious pub life MacGowan revels in. In true Pogues fashion it unclear to the listener whether the eponymous character is a beautiful woman or indeed a beautiful pint of Irish stout. The song is the liveliest on the album and the perfect cut to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day to at home. I urge you to listen, close your eyes and imagine yourself at a lively bar of your choice!
After ‘Sally MacLennane’ comes ‘Dirty Old Town’, a quite magnificent change of pace. The song is a cover of a 1949 track by Ewan MacColl, father of friend and collaborator of the Pogues, Kirsty MacColl. Written about the third best city in the North West, Manchester, (shoutout to Blackpool, the number one choice is obvious…) MacGowan’s signature drawl is at its best here, paired with traditional Irish folk instrumentation. Melodic and unconventionally alluring, ‘Dirty Old Town’ paints an idyllic picture of Northern England through its romanticisation of an industrial landscape.
There are other brilliant songs on ‘Rum Sodomy & The Lash’ of course. ‘The Old Main Drag’ perfectly captures the dark sides of London, portrayed in comical and tragic lyrics and stories from MacGowan. ‘I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’ sang by bass player Cait O’Riordan is another warm folky cover in the same vein as ‘Dirty Old Town’. ‘The Gentleman Soldier’ is a hidden 2-minute gem at the end of the album too, a highly amusing story with wild vocal inflections.
‘Rum Sodomy & The Lash’ is a wildly enjoyable album. The melodies are infectious and lyrical content of the songs are both honest and raucous. Whilst not to everyone’s taste, The Pogues deserve to be celebrated as a musical force. We can be glad that Shane MacGowan will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year and for many fans of the Pogues the plan for Wednesday whilst stuck at home is obvious…put on ‘Rum Sodomy & The Lash’!
Link to the album: https://open.spotify.com/album/2wRH4pcI8TIQFCK1MeByWO?si=a1jm36vaQp6LQF2a8mCN0g
Feature Image Credit: mimbarschool.com