1. The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn
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
11. Billy's Bones
12. The Gentleman Soldier
13. The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Ranking alongside Guinness stout as one of Ireland's finest exports, the Pogues are an interesting band on several accounts. The band came together in London's punk scene of the 1970s next to the Sex Pistols and The Clash, who reached a larger audience by taking a confrontational, visually splashy, sonically harsh route. These bands (and the clothespin-pierced earlobes of their minions) co-opted the label of "punk," leaving no room for other bands that shared the DIY ethos, such as the Pogues (originally the Pogue Mahones, Gaelic for "Kiss My Ass"), who took traditional Irish music and infused it with punk spirit. Name another band, if you can, whose rhythm section featured a man repeatedly bashing himself over the head with a beer tray.
On the Pogues' excellent second album, Rum Sodomy & The Lash, the musicians had gained mastery of their instruments and lead singer Shane MacGowan's lyrical talents were reaching full bloom. The beer tray era was long over due to Spider Stacy's multiple concussions, but the band's independent spirit is still evident. The lone musical weakness is that the tunes draw heavily, and almost exclusively, from traditional Irish sources. The strong pictures drawn by the lyrics more than make up for this, though, and MacGowan's voice is at its most comprehensible…he still had most of his teeth at this point.
Very few albums are as deeply rooted in history as Rum Sodomy & The Lash. Cuchulainn, a figure from Irish mythology, appears. "Navigator" celebrates the Irish laborers who dug Great Britain's canal system. "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a dirge about ANZAC troops slaughtered by the Turks at Gallipoli. Life as a junkie hustler on the streets of 1970s London gets a human face in the depressing (but depressing in a good way) "Old Main Drag." The instrumental "A Pistol For Paddy Garcia" brings to mind Irish mercenaries who stayed in Mexico after Emperor Maximilian I was deposed (consult your history books!). Three traditional songs also make an appearance: "I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day," with vocals by the band's lone female, who quit shortly thereafter, "Jesse James," about the famous American outlaw, and "The Gentleman Soldier," about a girl impregnated by an itinerant soldier.
The only song I don't care for is "Wild Cats Of Kilkenny," which other reviews I've read say is good. The song isn't bad; I just don't like it that much.
Since I've mentioned all but two of the songs, I suppose that I'll mention them as well. "Sally MacLennane" is a fun song about growing up, boozing, and saying goodbye to old friends. "Dirty Old Town" is a slow lament about a soot-begrimed hometown that taps emotions familiar to most people; you love the memories but can't stand the town any longer.
Rum Sodomy & The Lash is a great album and an essential part of any Pogues or neo-traditionalist Irish music lover's collection. It's a good starter if you're unfamiliar with the band—if you like this, you'll like the rest of their music—but all the discs I've seen are imports and the domestic Island Records compilation may be easier to find, as well as cheaper. Oh hell, you'll eventually want to buy this album anyway, so bite the bullet and do it now.
Go! Find! Buy!
Review by Jonathan Arnett
Review date: 07/1999