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Published: 2013/02/01

The Pogues
The Very Best Of The Pogues

Shout! Factory

Let’s start right off by acknowledging the fact that if you already own The Best Of The Pogues, The Rest Of The Best, Essential Pogues, The Ultimate Collection, Dirty Old Town: The Platinum Collection, Just Look Them Straight In The Eye and Say … Pogue Mahone!, and/or an older album that was also named The Very Best Of The Pogues (though with a different track listing), then there may not be a good reason for you to add this album to the stack. Except – EXCEPT – for the CD booklet, which includes notes by Pogue guitarist/vocalist/tin whistle man Spider Stacy. (Along with an unnerving black and white of Pogue frontman Shane MacGowan dressed in clean shirt, long black overcoat, and goofy gas station sunglasses, gesturing towards the door of an establishment advertising “NON STOP PEEP SHOW £1” … which I’m betting none of the aforementioned albums offer. So there.)

But if you’re looking for an introduction to the music of The Pogues – or want to freshen up the collection with some mighty fine remasters – then you have come to the right place, my friend: The Very Best Of The Pogues is just what you need.

The Pogues brought the world a cool blend of punk and Celtic folk music thickly layered with all sorts of things with strings, percussion (both hand and stick-wielding), squeezeboxes of various sizes, horns, keys, and that tin whistle we mentioned earlier. Instrumentally, The Pogues were a band of killer players while MacGowan’s rough-and-raggedy vocals were fueled by a mix of pathos and liquor – never pretty, but always real as hell. (MacGowan’s first tour of duty with the band ran from their formation in 1982 until 1991 when he was booted for simply being too drunk; he returned to the fold in 2001 – having successfully avoided sobriety during the decade he was gone.) All in all, The Pogues managed to make everyone that crossed their musical path wish they were Irish, if not actually believe they were, as long as the music played. Sure, Mumford & Sons are pulling off their own version of that same trick these days – but wind the clock back 20 or 30 years and see what you find. These boys were the originals.

And the name, in case you didn’t know? Maybe that explains things best of all: the band originally formed as Pogue Mahone, which is Gaelic for “Kiss my arse.” That harmless little inside joke didn’t play well with BBC censors – thus the abbreviated version. Keep that little bit of trivia in your pocket and you might win a pint at the pub sometime. Don’t thank me – it’s my job.

The Very Best offers up 18 tracks of … well … The Pogues’ very best. Longtime fans may want to debate the exclusion (or inclusion) of this or that, but on the whole, this is some prime Pogues right here. The sound is great and their career is well-represented. Shut up and eat your chips.

Here we have “Boys From The County Hell” and “Streams Of Whiskey”, both early MacGowan-penned tunes (the latter the first song the band ever performed live). And here we have the knock-the-barstool-over raucousness of “Sally MacLennane” and the arm-in-arm drunken sendoff of “Body Of An American”. “Thousands Are Sailing” is a history lesson on the Irish diaspora. “Dirty Old Town” deserves a place alongside “Danny Boy” on St. Patrick’s Day. And included in the mix are a couple of songs from the MacGowanless years – “Tuesday Morning” (a lovely love song) and “Love You ‘Till The End” – with Spider Stacy on lead vocals.

And yes, there are plenty more songs about being plastered, just in case you were worried. The best of them all may very well be “Fairytale Of New York”, which features MacGowan pulling off a Christmastime duet with the late Kirsty MacColl. “You’re a bum, you’re a punk/You’re an old slut on junk,” the two banter, sounding like the drunk tank’s version of Sonny & Cher – hopeless together and hopeless without each other. “Happy Christmas your arse/I pray God it’s our last”: you can just imagine the pee-stained snowbanks in the background.

Will there be new music in the future from The Pogues? Time will tell, my friend. Meanwhile, The Very Best Of The Pogues is a fine thing, indeed.

And if anyone tries to tell you different just yell at ‘em, “Pogue mahone!”

*****

Brian Robbins eats his chips over at www.brian-robbins.com

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