Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Pogues: “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” (1988/2021) Vinyl Review

My friend Dan Ryan and I got into The Pogues in the mid-1980s, before the release of If I Should Fall From Grace With God, which came out in 1988. Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard a lot of Irish folk music, but this was something different, and it excited me, this combination of folk and punk. Lots of other bands have done it since, but The Pogues, in my estimation, just have never been topped. And now Newbury Comics has put out a special color vinyl edition of If I Should Fall From Grace With God. How could I not purchase a copy? It’s fucking green! This album, for those who don’t know, contains the absolute best Christmas song ever recorded. But the whole thing is great. As a teenager, I was especially enamored of “Turkish Song Of The Damned.” That’s one to dance and flail around to, and the entire album is, of course, something to drink to.  And did I mention this new vinyl edition is green? With splatters of yellow. It’s beautiful.

Side One

The album opens with the title track, and within seconds I am dancing and drinking and forgetting the world’s troubles. Fuck ‘em all, I just want to enjoy myself. “Bury me at sea/Where no murdered ghost can haunt me.” Then comes that song that really blew me away the first time I heard this album, “Turkish Song Of The Damned.” The verses are powerful, with a dark thumping. And check out these lines: “The captain’s corpse jumped up/And threw his arms around my neck/For all these years I’ve had him on my back.” Then the chorus has a brighter, happier vibe. I love that contrast. And then, surprise, the track concludes with a traditional-sounding folk section. That’s followed by “Bottle Of Smoke,” a song that demands you have a pint of Guinness in your hand, which I do, and that you dance around without spilling a goddamn drop, because those sorts of skills are important, you see. This song is a lot of fun. Partway through the song, I look around and am shocked to find myself not in a lively pub, but in my apartment, alone.

“Fairytale Of New York” is the best Christmas song, no question. It is lovely and depressing and funny and sweet, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it, though I can never tell if it’s because of the song’s sad aspect or its happiest aspect. “I can see a better time/When all our dreams come true.” And Kirsty MacColl joins Shane MacGowan on vocals, a duet unlike any other. That’s followed by “Metropolis,” an instrumental track that goes in some interesting, unexpected directions, like it suddenly becomes the theme to some old television program or spy movie. James Bond wishes he were this cool. The first side of the record concludes with a more serious song, “Thousands Are Sailing.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Thousands are sailing/Across the western ocean/To a land of opportunity/That some of them will never see.” I’ve always found this one rather beautiful, and the song’s power is as great as ever, with its lyrics about immigration and refugees. While much of the band’s material was written by Shane MacGowan, this one was written by Philip Chevron.

Side Two

“Fiesta” eases in with that sweet, romantic horn. But of course it is not long before things explode into a delicious ecstasy, and I am dancing like a madman on his one day of vacation from the sanitarium, a day of bright colors and venereal exploration and exploitation. Onward! Then at the beginning of “Medley” we find ourselves marching, and though not certain of our destination, we know there will be stops along the way to wet our whistles. And once things kick in, we are on the Rocky Road To Dublin, and now we’re in high gear and celebrating. The percussion lets us know everything is good, and any previous worries evaporate. Then suddenly things get serious and mellow with “Streets Of Sorrow,” though we are bidding farewell to the sorrow and pain. It seems the party might be over, but it segues into “Birmingham Six,” which gets livelier, though we are still in somber territory. And it sort of drifts off at the end.

“Lullaby Of London” begins in a prettier realm, though this might be the only lullaby to mention hell. “May they all sleep tight/Down in hell tonight/Or wherever they may be.” The band rouses us again with “Sit Down By The Fire,” whose lyrics also mention hell. Hey, there may be no escape. Who knows? As long as I have a pint in my hand and power to raise the glass to my lips, and legs that can dance, it’s okay with me. Then with “The Broad Majestic Shannon,” we emerge in a sweet land where Shane MacGowan sings “There’s no pain, there’s no more sorrow/They’ve all gone, gone in the years, babe.” Amen to that. This is a beautiful song. The album finishes with “Worms,” a strange, short number you might remember from the darkest days of your childhood, taking us into the realm of death and reminding us to be merry. It is also known as “The Hearse Song.” A fitting way to end, eh?

Record Track List

Side One

  1. If I Should Fall From Grace With God
  2. Turkish Song Of The Damned
  3. Bottle Of Smoke
  4. Fairytale Of New York
  5. Metropolis
  6. Thousands Are Sailing

Side Two

  1. Fiesta
  2. Medley
  3. Streets Of Sorrow/Birmingham Six
  4. Lullaby Of London
  5. Sit Down By The Fire
  6. The Broad Majestic Shannon
  7. Worms

This special vinyl edition of If I Should Fall From Grace With God was released on October 1, 2021.

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