Pogues: Rum Sodomy & the Lash

Like punk rock?  Celtic music?  General bad-assery?  Then you’ve probably already heard Rum Sodomy & the Lash, and you’ve most definitely heard The Pogues.  But for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, let me be the one to school you a little bit: The Pogues are a Celtic/folk punk band that formed in the early 80s and have recently re-formed to tour.  Their lead singer, Shane MacGowan, is the poster boy for musicians drinking to excess, though he and Keith Richards are still very much alive (probably because they’ve been pickled years ago.)  If you’re kicking it at the local pub on St. Patrick’s Day (and really, who isn’t?), you’ve probably heard their music interspersed amongst the Flogging Molly, Black 47 and Dropkick Murphys (and in my ‘hood, Scythian, an amazing DC-born band you should be checking out as soon as you finish this).  Oh, and any cool radio station worth its salt plays “Fairytale of New York” at Christmastime.

Why do I love The Pogues?  Well, mostly because when I first heard the band I had a friend whisper to me, “you know, Pogue Mahone means ‘kiss my ass’ in Gaelic”.  That was all I needed.  The fact that they actually knew how to play their instruments and incorporated old-school stuff like tin whistles, banjos and the accordion in their rockin’ tunes didn’t hurt.  Rum Sodomy & the Lash was their second album, and it’s a mad collection of old shanties, folk songs gone rough and their own creations.  Apparently drummer Adam Ranken was taken by a quote from Winston Churchill (some say it’s his, some say it’s never been proven):

“Don’t talk to me about naval tradition. It’s nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash.”

And so the title.  Most of my feelings on this album have been said in my review of Jeffrey T. Roesgen’s 33 1/3 book about this album, but there’s much I haven’t covered over there. Like how Elvis Costello produced this album (he said he wanted “to capture them in their dilapidated glory before some more professional producer fucked them up”).  The songs themselves.  Let’s have a look, shall we?  I won’t bore you by going over each and every song — your time is better spent listening to the songs themselves — but I will hit you with a few highlights:

* “The Old Main Drag”: ahh, to be burnt the fuck out and yet still brilliant.  A gritty look at life on the streets, in all its hideous splendor.  It’s like a sock in the gut down the alley, and it’s one of McGowan’s best pieces.  That’s saying something, by the way.

* “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday”: this old traditional gets a spin by being sung by Cait O’Riordan, the band’s bass player.  Her beautiful vocals lend a haunting feel to this tune, and I can’t listen to any other version of this tune without thinking of this one.

* “Jesse James”: A’yup.  That old American folk tune got an Irish cover.  And it works.  Though I have to admit that this song was one of the first I ever learned when I picked up a guitar, so I may be a bit biased when it comes to my love of this song.  But The Pogues still kick this up to eleven.  Considering a good many of the folks that headed out West during the whole Manifest Destiny thing were probably originally poor folks from across pond, it’s no wonder.  Bonus points for the gunfire in the background, and the uptempo that makes me want to have a shot of Jameson’s at every verse.  Probably not a good idea, that.

* “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”: A heartbreaking, gruesome anti-war song that feels like a timeless tune even though it was written in 1971 by Eric Bogle.  MacGowan seems to really focus on his enunciation, like he wants you to hear every bloody word.  Listen and see if you don’t hang on every word.

* “London Girl”: so this wasn’t on the original album.  But it’s on the 2004 re-issue CD, so it counts, dammit.  I like this one because it has a more 80s vibe, as opposed to their typical folk rock vibe.  Plus, it’s bouncy.  I like bouncy.  And after “Waltzing Matilda,” bouncy works.

* “The Parting Glass”: another add-on to the 2004 re-issue, it’s a lovely final farewell that wraps up the CD.  It’s a song that has lyrics you can take in any number of ways.  Is the singer off for the night, or is he off to die?  Will he return to his lady love, or is he pining over what was lost?

So yeah, Rum Sodomy & the Lash is a classic punk record.  While I’m still getting over the fact that I can now use “classic” and “punk” in the same sentence, give it a listen.  Better yet, give a copy to your favorite bartender. I guarantee you’ll hear it over and over whenever you walk in to the pub, and you may even get your next pint on the house while you’re at it.  Now if you’ll excuse me, all this bluesy, folky drinking music has me thirsty.  I’m off for an Old Rasputin; if I see you around say hello, I’ll buy you a round.

(Rhino Records, 2006 [orig. Warner Bros. UK, 1998])

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