January 18, 1988 saw the release of The Pogues‘ LP, If I Should Fall From Grace With God. Little known in the U.S. apart from the timeless “Fairytale Of New York,” that most unlikely of Christmas songs, The Pogues were melding traditional Celtic music with punk rock back when Ken Casey was still trying to score with cheerleaders at UMass. I’m not casting derision on the Dropkick Murphys, but it always surprises me that they get far more recognition than the original Celtic punks from across the pond.
If I Should Fall From Grace With God was the band’s third full-length, and their first without bassist Cait O’Riordan who had run off and married Elvis Costello after he produced their excellent Rum, Sodomy, & The Lash three years prior. It also ended up being their biggest selling album on the strength of the lead single, “Fairytale…” This album was a more democratic affair, as well, with other members of the band assisting in songwriting duties rather than just Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer as had been the case on their first two records.
One listen to this record and it’s easy to hear why it was their most popular, and again puzzling to think that it wasn’t moreso outside of the UK. From the opening title track to the penultimate “The Broad Majestic Shannon,” this album exudes Ireland and contains some of their most stirring songs in “Streets Of Sorrow,” (which features a lovely lead vocal by Terry Woods) “Lullaby Of London,” and “Thousands Are Sailing.” (That said, there are few songs that could match the emotional pull of “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” from their prior album.)
“Fiesta” was written in tribute to a party in Spain (and sounds like it), “Bottle Of Smoke” was written about the Cheltenham horse races, and “Metropolis” is a reeling instrumental that would have Michael Flatley pissing himself. Throughout, Shane MacGowan’s drunken slurring brogue fits the music perfectly, alternately singing and shouting, sometimes on the verge of incoherence and frequently indecipherable to American ears.
Unfortunately, as blissful as the listening experience is, this was also the point in time when MacGowan’s drinking started to get the better of him. He failed to show up for a number of shows during their 1988 tour in America and was eventually ousted from the band two albums and three years later.
Kirsty MacColl contributed her vocals to the immortal “Fairytale Of New York,” bassist Darryl Hunt proved a capable replacement on bass, and the songwriting of Terry Woods and Phil Chevron helped to round out the band’s sound and messages. Today, nearly thirty years later, If I Should Fall From Grace With God remains a testament to a time when the band was firing on all cylinders. It’s a great starting point for those new to the band and a classic for those who’ve been listening to it for years.