If breaking up is hard to do in the pop music industry, then staying together is even that much harder - just ask Anglo-Irish punk/folk-rock band the Pogues.
Despite rumors that the eight-member group was splitting up - especially after dozens of drunken escapades by creative leader Shane MacGowan, including MacGowan walking off and berating U.S. fans wearing "Batman" T-shirts in a Texas show - the band has stuck together through thick and thin and has actually exploded for its most productive outburst of its career.Though two efforts were delayed more than a year before their 1990 release date, the Pogues have two albums and a four-song mini-album to their credit for the past year - an output that would make even once-prolific songwriter Elvis Costello envious.THE POGUES; "Peace and Love" (Island Records); produced by Steve Lillywhite. * * *
Following up 1987's "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," probably the band's most successful album and surely its most critically acclaimed, took the Pogues almost three years.
Was the wait worth it? Somewhat, maybe.
MacGowan, in particular, seemed stumped for song material, and contributed only six of the album's 14 numbers.
While some critics hailed the effort as being refreshingly democratic, some of the song ideas are very short on originality and energy, particularly the contributions from banjo player Jem Finer and mandolin player Terry Woods.
Additionally, the production values from longtime music veteran Steve Lillywhite are too rock-oriented and lack some of the more traditional folk values of earlier material.
Fortunately, three of MacGowan's songs ("White City," "Down All the Days" and "USA") are among his best, especially the lyrics on the latter:Also, guitarist Philip Chevron, a veteran of England's punk rock scene before joining the band in the early '80s, contributes two of the album's finer moments with the wistful "Lorelei" and the surprisingly poppy "Blue Heaven" (maybe the catchiest thing the band has ever done), including lending his appropriate vocal stylings.THE POGUES; "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" (Island Records); produced by Steve Lillywhite, Dave Jordan and Terry Woods. * * *
After the release of "Peace and Love," Island Record executives discovered that they may have left off the album's most likely "hit" single in "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah," and a video for the song actually preceded the release of other "Peace and Love" videos.
As an afterthought, Island released the extended mix of the song, along with three other nuggets, as a mini-album this summer.
Realistically, the song itself doesn't warrant much excitement, especially with its trite lyrics and mind-numbing chorus, although it's probably the most punkish thing the band has ever done.
However, the three other numbers, including an exceptional cover of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman," are quite spectacular.
MacGowan's gruff vocals, in particular, have never sounded better or more suited for such material. Also, credit producer Steve Lillywhite's judicious additions of horns and accordion for most of the song's punch.
Another welcome relief on the release is "Whiskey in a Jar," the first truly traditional Irish folk song the band has covered in quite some time. Plus, the support of Ireland's Dubliners adds a sensational air of authenticity to the song.THE POGUES; "Hell's Ditch" (Island Records) produced by Joe Strummer. * * * *
After two albums and the four-song EP recorded with longtime collaborator Steve Lillywhite, the Pogues parted ways with their erstwhile guru and hooked up with former Clash leader Joe Strummer.
Strummer, who has co-headlined with the band in concert, including performing some old Clash songs with the band, evidently had some drastically different ideas for song direction.
Though the band is evidently avoiding older folk covers (unfortunately), the album is filled with lushly produced folk numbers with a nice variety of ethnic sounds mixed in, including African congas, American banjo and European mandolin.
MacGowan again takes the brunt of the songwriting chores, and evidently his batteries have been recharged nicely, as his nine efforts are among his all-time best.
"Rain Street" is a punchy ode to the low-income in London's lower east side, "House of the Gods" is a poppy tribute to the Kinks' "Lola," and "Summer in Siam" is a glittering mood piece. All benefit greatly from MacGowan's surprisingly subtle vocals stylings and from the no-frills instrumentals.
Speaking of which, Strummer's production allows each individual member to shine at least once, such as Jem Finer's stellar madola and hurdy-gurdy work on the title track and James Fearnley's flamenco-like guitar on "Lorca's Novena."
"Hell's Ditch" is a mature work, especially for a band that has picked up a reputation as a collection of bad boys and spoiled brats. Maybe it will go a long way toward helping the record-buying public notice this much-underappreciated group.