The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988): Review

pogues

Produced by Steve Lillywhite
Label – Island

By the time Steve Lillywhite cautiously accepted the producer’s role for The Pogues, what surprised him most of all was their level of tightly honed musicianship and their willingness to innovate beyond the Irish folk/punk of previous recordings. Their 1985 long player “Rum, Sodomy And The Lash”, had successfully laid the foundation for leader Shane MacGowan’s snarling gutter poetry, backed by lightning fast and aggressive jigs. “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” had been mainly written on the road during 18 months of incessant touring and when the band entered RAK studios to record much of the content was fully formed. Undoubtedly the aim was for a more accessible record than the predecessor, and Lillywhite’s major league experience helped achieve these goals. Engineer Chris Dickie would say “Steve has this knack of getting everyone involved with a project to perform at a higher level than they normally would”. The emphasis on broadening the sonic scope would introduce splashes of Middle Eastern, Spanish and gentle balladry to the core musical backdrop and this diversity only adds to what remains their greatest and most fulfilling recording. In addition, MacGowan’s song writing would be at its peak; the point where the booze hadn’t quite soaked out his skill.

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The most memorable moment from the collection is the emotionally charged Christmas anthem, “Fairytale Of New York”. Originally written two years previously, the song had been shelved as the planned vocal duet between MacGowan and Pogues member Cait O’Riordan failed to materialise as the bass player left the band to marry Elvis Costello and was replaced by Darryl Hunt. Seeing its potential as a hit, Lillywhite suggested his wife Kirsty MacColl to fill the female lead. Her bruising riposte to MacGowan’s slurred and failed promises form one of the most exhilarating lyrical battles in modern musical history. The arrangement of the subdued piano introduction leading into the faster paced fully formed story reveals textures that resonate far beyond the festive period. The celebratory “Fiesta” with its horn led instrumental lead brings the hard partying atmosphere to the fore, and the title track is a lightning trip to their more familiar roots. “Turkish Song Of The Damned” is a darker, more exotic journey, and is musically one of the band’s most explorative songs. Other highlights include “Bottle Of Smoke”, “Streets Of Sorrow/Birmingham Six” and “The Broad Majestic Shannon”.

“If I Should Fall From Grace With God” is the most surprisingly coherent and complete recording The Pogues would ever assemble. It seems those random stars collided and with a little touch of Irish luck provided us with a shining gem of an album.

9/10

Track Listing
1. “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” MacGowan 2:20
2. “Turkish Song of the Damned” MacGowan, Finer 3:27
3. “Bottle of Smoke” MacGowan, Finer 2:47
4. “Fairytale of New York” MacGowan, Finer 4:36
5. “Metropolis” Finer 2:50
6. “Thousands Are Sailing” Chevron 5:28
7. “South Australia” Traditional 3:27
8. “Fiesta” MacGowan, Finer 4:13
9. “Medley: The Recruiting Sergeant/The Rocky Road to Dublin/The Galway Races” Traditional 4:03
10. “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six” MacGowan, Woods 4:39
11. “Lullaby of London” MacGowan 3:32
12. “The Battle March Medley” Woods 4:10
13. “Sit Down by the Fire” MacGowan 2:18
14. “The Broad Majestic Shannon” MacGowan 2:55
15. “Worms” Traditional 1:01

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