The Pogues. I'm sure The Boss didn't have that great Celtic-rock band in mind when he wrote and recorded the song but its resemblance in spirit, if not in sound, to Shane McGowan’s famous group is uncanny. The folk-punkers do what Springsteen has always done so well over the years and that's what makes The Pogues third CD, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, (1987) one of the outstanding Celtic-rock sets of all time.
This Emerald Isle classic is traditional in a lot of ways. It's full of tin whistles, acoustic guitars, banjos, and accordions. Also, McGowan's long history with drugs and alcohol that resulted in his firing from the band just a couple of years after this album was released undoubtedly influenced the music as well. Unfortunately, it also perpetuated a sad Irish stereotype.
Yet, even though McGowan looks like someone who couldn't possibly have a deep thought in his head he and his mates prove you can combine streetwise rowdiness with an understanding of human nature. The two best examples of this are the title track and the Christmas tune, "Fairytale of New York" in which the lead singer and the late Kirsty MacColl tell the tale of an unfortunate soul locked in the drunk tank for the holiday. In 2004 it was voted the best Christmas song of all time in a poll conducted by VH1 UK.
The songs aren't all pointedly Irish. On both "Fiesta" and one of the bonus tracks, a cover of "Sketches of Spain," the band throws in some mariachi music and, as its title suggests, "Turkish Song of The Damned" has a definite Mideastern vibe. A little bit of Jerry Lee Lewis, rockabilly style piano and a smidgen of jazz support the instrumental, "Metropolis."
The currently available expanded version (released in 2006) is nineteen tracks long and two of the extras feature the folk band The Irish Rovers (remember the hit song from the 60s, "The Unicorn"?) who assist nicely on "The Irish Rover" and "Mountain Dew."
Lead singer McGowan is a strong lyricist and he often surrounds his intelligent words in a bed of super fast tempos. Some listeners may believe that the high octane arrangements get in the way of the message but, as it turns out, the exact opposite is true. The exuberance of The Pogues music sucks you in first and then, after they have earned your attention, it's just an easy baby step before their lyrics catch hold of your brain too. To prove the point, how many albums with a serious title such as this one could double as a party album you can sing along to at your Saturday night beer bash? Ask the man from Asbury Park. He knows.