CD rewind: Rum Sodomy & the Lash by The Pogues
Rum, Sodomy & the Lash
The Pogues are one of the most identifiably Irish popular bands in history - even though most of the members were born in England, including wayward poet-songwriter and frontman Shane MacGowan. They came to public attention with their second album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, after the previous year's Red Roses for Me had failed to make much of an impression. It was another three years - an age between albums in those days - before The Pogues hit the big time with their next release, 1988's If I Should Fall from Grace With God.
A trademark combination of Irish folk music and traditional Irish instruments with the energy of the sometimes hyperactive speed of punk, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash - the title comes from a supposed Winston Churchill quote about the true traditions of the navy, and was suggested by drummer Andrew Ranken as an apt summation of life in the band - is full of Irish reference points, with songs titled The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn, Wild Cats of Kilkenny and Sally MacLennane, and versions of traditional Irish songs I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day and The Gentleman Soldier.
Produced by another Anglo-Irishman, Elvis Costello, the album largely comprises two types of song. There are the kinetic, rousing, profane, fast punk jigs that channel the infectious manic energy of the band's live performances, such as The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn, Billy's Bones and Sally MacLennane. The latter, a high-spirited drinking song par excellence and one of The Pogues' best-known, is an ode to a beer rather than a woman: alcohol and its use and abuse have been a constant feature in MacGowan's lyrics, as they have in his life.
Then there are the slower ballads, folk songs and shanties, such as The Old Main Drag and the gruffly stirring A Pair of Brown Eyes, based on Irish folk song Wild Mountain Thyme. Dirty Old Town, best known from the rendition here, was written by folk singer Ewan MacColl, whose daughter Kirsty provided vocals for The Pogues' biggest hit: the 1987 Christmas song Fairytale of New York.
The album's most directly political songs are also personal stories: MacGowan's Navigator, about the historical plight of Irish construction workers employed in England; and Scottish-Australian folk singer Eric Bogle's poignant anti-war anthem And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.
Throughout Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, MacGowan's rasping, heavily accented delivery is an expressive complement to his off-kilter storytelling as he moves seamlessly from inspirational rabble-rouser to emotive balladeer.
The album is shot through with a doomed romanticism: a cynical, booze-fuelled journey through the seamier side of life, but one made with wide-eyed optimism.