Wednesday, January 6, 2010

445. Rum Sodomy and the Lash- Probably the best Celtic Punk album I’ve ever heard

Album: Rum Sodomy and The Lash.

Artist: The Pogues.

Year: 1985

Genre: Knees up punk.


  1. The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn
  2. The Old Main Drag
  3. Wild Cats of Kilkenny
  4. I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day
  5. A Pair of Brown Eyes
  6. Sally MacLennane
  7. A Pistol for Paddy Garcia
  8. Dirty Old Town
  9. Jesse James
  10. Navigator
  11. Billy's Bones
  12. The Gentleman Soldier
  13. And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

My horizons have definitely been widened by this experience. Writing this blog has taught me much about music, especially three genres that I’ve never liked: Hip Hop, Country and Punk. While I’ve had my views on the first two challenged the last one has been pretty much blown out of the water. I’ve come to an understanding that Punk isn’t so much a genre as a state of mind. I thought Punk was the Sex Pistols and the first Clash album but I realise now that Punk isn’t in the eye of the beholder it’s in the head of the creators. The Pogues play punk music on traditional acoustic Irish instruments. They have all of the punk aesthetic but a sense of musical history and an ability to play accordions, whistles and banjos.

The most famous member of the Pogues is Shane McGowan who handles most of the vocals and is a legend in the UK for two main reasons. The first is his alcoholism, which started in his early teens, and the second is his spectacular brand of facial ugliness which he must have carried from the womb. Apparently these two states are not unrelated- McGowan drank due to his sensitivity about his looks, although possibly he just wanted to consume any nearby liquid to remove all reflective surfaces from his presence. While his looks might be a drawback if he wanted a career in a boy band his notoriety probably helped the Pogues career.

Not that I’m suggesting for a second that the Pogues needed a gimmick to get a gig. They didn’t need to find the most unattractive singer they could find in order to stand out from all the other traditional celtic punk bands on the market. Until Flogging Molly and The Popes came along they were the only guys doing what they do. They had the “Irish Punk Rovers” market pretty well sewn up. And it was sewn up darn well. There’s a lot to love on Rum Sodomy and the Lash, the Sickbed of Culuchainn is a fantastic track that really rocks but is just overtaken by Sally Mclennane which must really explode when played live.

But while McGowan’s car-crash dentistry and deranged look didn’t hold the Pogues back, apparently his drinking did. Eventually his wild ways made him too unreliable and he was booted from the band for missing performances. While it might have been an issue late in their career in the earlier stages when Rum was recorded his drinking is actually part of the charm. Make no mistake about it, McGowan was clearly pissed while these sessions were being recorded. At times during Dirty Old Town I swear you can hear him pause to take a quick swig. But it doesn’t hold the album back since the entire release is so alcohol-sodden you could get tipsy just by running your tongue around the outside of the disc. Its music designed to be played in pubs by performers who are halfway to being completely legless and an audience who are halfway beyond them. Lyrics are frequently concerned with alcohol, wine, whiskey and other spirits (although surprisingly not rum) are mentioned constantly. If you decided to down a drink every time Shane or one of the other vocalists sang about imbibing then you’d never hear the end of the album.

But the heavy drinking mood really suits this music, you can easily imagine the entire band pretty strung out on booze. It sounds like lead vocals are taken by whoever can remember the words and locate a microphone with backing supplied by anyone still standing. The album’s one instrumental was probably supposed to have lyrics but nobody could remember what they were or else the person who nominated themselves lead singer was so pissed he spent the session crooning into a hatstand. McGowan handles most of the vocal duties which is just as well because his face would be much improved by being hidden behind a microphone. Cait O’riordon sings one song and she might be uglier than Shane for all I know but when you hear her voice you can’t help but picture her as being as beautiful as he is hideous. Her voice has that sort of tone.

The final track on Rum Sodomy and the Lash is a cover of The band Played Waltzing Matilda a popular folk tune about an Australian who goes off to fight in the First World War and comes back without his legs. It’s been covered by artists all over the world and is a popular anti-war song often played by the likes of Joan Baez and other folkies. As an Australian myself it’s a pretty important part of my musical heritage and a song that means a lot to me. While McGowan might be the sort of singer who would be laughed out of an X-factor/pop idol audition he’s just the sort of guy who can do justice to the sentiment in this song. I would never knock Joan’s voice but this is a song that needs to be sung by someone who sounds like they really were at Gallipoli and left a part of their soul (and a fair chunk of their body) in the mud. McGowan gives the track his all and it makes for an impressive conclusion to a really great album.

Highlight: Sally Maclennane a great track.

Lowlight: The old main drag. Like the most tedious waltz you’ve ever heard.

Influenced by: Whiskey, beer, Guinness and other spirits.

Influenced: Flogging Molly.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "If it hadn't been for my horse, I would never have spent that summer in college."

-That's the entire review. That's all it says. Baffling.

So… the pogues… a rum bunch of sods or lashings of good music? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. Not to mention one of the great album covers of all time. My only dispute lies in your listing of 'main drag' as the lowlight. No doubt that is a tough call on a near perfect disc but I would lean towards Wild Cats of Kilkenny myself.