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Old 03-31-2009, 08:05 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Pogues - Hell's Ditch (1990)

Just because I haven't really got much else to do, and I want to leave the top 100 list alone for a bit, here's a review of an album which is unrelated to it.

The Pogues - Hell's Ditch (1990)


1. The Sunnyside Of the Street
2. Sayonara
3. The Ghost Of a Smile
4. Hell's Ditch
5. Lorca's Novena
6. Summer In Siam
7. Rain Street
8. Rainbow Man
9. The Wake Of the Medusa
10. House Of the Gods
11. 5 Green Queens and Jean
12. Maidrin Rua
13. Six To Go


Personnel:
Shane MacGowan - vocals
Jem Finer - banjo, mandola, hurdy-gurdy, saxophone, guitar
Spider Stacy - tin whistle, vocals, harmonica
James Fearnley - accordion, piano, guitar, violin, sitar, kalimba
Terry Woods - mandolin, guitar, cittern, vocals, concertina, auto harp
Philip Chevron - guitar
Darryl Hunt - bass guitar
Andrew Ranken - drums

Hell's Ditch is an odd little album, in that given its place in the Pogues' discography it seems to represent an artistic step back and step forward at the same time. The band's previous effort, the up-and-down Peace and Love, saw the beginnings of the conflict between MacGowan and his bandmates which would see the former sacked not long after this album's release - not only was he consuming enough alcohol to give a wild rhinoceros cirrhosis of the liver (and thus becoming very difficult to work with), but also the band had grown tired of using their Celtic roots as a constant basis for songwriting, unlike their eccentric leader MacGowan. Hell's Ditch on the other hand finds the Pogues in more familiar territory, delivering the kind of brand of white-hot Celtic punk they were known, while at the same time opting for a more ambitious sound in some songs, sometimes embracing MacGowan's increasing fascination with Asian and Latin musical accents. This is both what makes the album stand out from the rest of the Pogues' discography and is also, unfortunately, what prevents it from reaching the heights of their finest moments. Another flaw in what could easily have been their masterpiece is that while Joe Strummer's production methods do the album's sound a lot of good, he could be accused of being too fond of MacGowan to tell him that his vocals sound like he's singing with a gobstopper in his mouth, as his typically image-rich and evocative lyrics are rendered unintelligible in some areas.

Where that's the case though, such as on the sublime opener, the Sunnyside Of the Street, the rest of the Pogues more than make up for it with superb performances, the songwriting in the case of this merry ditty being more than strong enough to hold its own against the elements. The same kind of blissfully melodic songwriting is carried over to Sayonara, which rears its head as one of the more ambitious pieces of work on the album, where the opening wails of accordion (which echoes the Asian stylings MacGowan was taking notice of at the time) are pretty much guaranteed to stick around at the back of your head for a few hours after the first listen. It's a jovial, gently rolling and quite frankly brilliant song which, give or take MacGowan's unintelligible mumblings, represents the Pogues at their absolute best. Following up such a wonderful pair of opening tracks is quite a task for any album, and the Ghost Of a Smile is ever-so slightly below the par they both set. It's a much more simplistic, Celtic-influenced song, and not quite the smack in the face that the preceding tracks are, but still boats a terrific melody (brought to our attention by some very fine tin whistling from Spider Stacy) and is still a very good song indeed.

The title track though is from a completely different plain of reality though. It opens with a kind of Asiatic-influenced instrumental, featuring an amazing melting pot Fearnley's accordion, Finer's banjo and Woods' mandolin, it wouldn't exactly sound out of place on a film score, given its slowish, contemplative pacing. Even MacGowan's vocal is in key with the song's quality, his lyrics (if not completely crystal-clear at parts) telling the damning tale of life in the trenches in his typically straight-to-the-point manner. An amazing, somewhat experimental song, and a totally successful one as well. Brilliant album so far.

Unfortunately, there are several moments where the album lets itself down, the following Lorca's Novena being one of them. Darryl Hunt's bassline and Andrew Ranken's ominous drumbeat make this a slightly dark tune (trying to carry the vibe of the title track across), but one that fails, given the fact that what little melody there is isn't strong enough to hold its own against MacGowan's drunken ramble of a vocal or the instrumental atmospherics. Not really a very good song if truth be told. Summer In Siam goes for the same downtempo, moody vibe but this time, given the Latin vibes in the descending piano notes and the sadness in the saxophones make this a much more successful attempt at writing a darker tune. The fact that MacGowan's singing is at its atonal best and his lyrics being so as well (painting a gorgeous picture of a 'moon full of rainbows') help this song a great deal too.

Rain Street takes things up a notch or too, finding the Pogues at their very best, putting itself in nicely in the best songs of all time bag. An absolutely brilliant, uplifting tune which has a lot in common with the most fiery and melodic moments on the earlier Pogues records, and is one of the many moments on this album which suggests a happier and more unified band than the one which recorded Peace and Love.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is mostly made up of rambling and not-so-interesting moments in the vein of Lorca's Novena. Rainbow Man is a fine, though not truly incredible slice of guitar-led rock 'n' roll, but aside from that, the rest of the album borders on the mediocre. The exceptions would be the pretty little instrumental of Maidrin Rua and the Woods-composed singalong Six To Go which puts the lid on the album. The Wake Of the Medusa, House Of the Gods and 5 Green Queens and Jean deserve props for the effort, and aren't bad songs by any stretch of the imagination.

However, as is the main flaw with this album, they sound weak and under-worked when put alongside Hell's Ditch's best moments. All in all, this one's a mixed bag, but its highlights are as good as any song I've ever heard, and for this reason alone it's an album I'd highly recommend. There are shades of the fire of their earlier and supposedly better works, as well the fantastically uplifting and finely-tuned drinking songs they were renowned for, with added Asiatic and Latin colours to give them that extra strength. All in all though, I feel the following rating's pretty fair;

8/10

Here are some videos for you to have a look at. If anyone fancies a linky, just ask - if I'm in a good mood I might very well send you one.





Last edited by Bulldog; 03-31-2009 at 08:11 AM.
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