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It is often said that The Pogues set the standard for the Celtic-rock "pub song" that would rise in popularity not only in Ireland and England, but in such faraway haunts as the United States and Australia. Much of this popularity is due to the raggle-taggle mix of styles that their music incorporates: rock, traditional, and even punk elements. The result is one of the more unique hybrids of the 20th century, and a sound from a band that stands its ground against any 'influential' group of the period.
Initially known by the moniker "Poguemahone" (Irish Gaelic for "kiss my arse"), the band quickly found greater airplay and acceptance converting to the shorter "Pogues". A large band both in sheer numbers and their impact, The Pogues made their presence felt from the very beginning. Members Shane MacGowan, Peter "Spider" Stacey, Andrew "The Clobberer" Ranken, Jem Finer, Maestro James Fearnley and Cait "Rocky" O'Riodran (the band's only female member) hit the road with constant gigging that combined traditional staples with rowdy originals. The Pogues were a smash on the folk circuit, and the scene was perhaps changed forever by their presence.
The Very Best Of... is a selective, effective presentation of the band's ability, offering 21 tracks covering the five brief years that the band achieved the heights of their success. This album displays 21 different sides of The Pogues, each unique from the previous, all worth exploration.
The lead-off "Dirty Old Town", a drunkard's classic penned by the legendary Ewan McColl, is a glorious glimpse of MacGowan's pickled voice. What he lacks in the finer details of form, MacGowan gains from pure heart, character, and emotion. There are few vocalists that can evoke such feeling and imagery in such garbled tones. This is further emphasized in "A Pair of Brown Eyes", which was also written by the singer. The song's opening lyrics: "One summer evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless", sounds eerily similar to MacGowan's own tone, which is no small feat for even the most gifted of vocalists.
Perhaps the most striking track on The Very Best Of... is the semi-balladesque / semi- raucous "Fairytale of New York", which features the vocals of the late, great Kirsty MacColl. This is nothing less than one of the greatest songs of the '80s and perhaps the perfect gritty Christmas song that isn't afraid to pull any punches.
Other recognizable songs on this greatest hits collection include "The Irish Rover" (featuring the Dubliners), "Boys From the County Hell", and the great anti-war ballad, "The Band played Waltzing Matilda", by Australian Eric Bogle. This album is stunning from beginning to end, and a must-have for fans of any genre.