Let's not talk about the old tired clichés that surround the Pogues and Shane MacGowan, and let's talk about the actual music, which a lot of reviewers fail to do when talking about this band. That's really a shame, since they wrote some of the finest music there is.
Flogging Molly made me discover this band, as weird as this sounds. When I first listened to FM, I loved it and went on the Internet to see what others had to say about their music. Then I read a lot of people comparing Flogging Molly to the Pogues. It intrigued me and, of course, I had to check them out, so I got If I Should Fall from Grace with God. It was a revelation. From that point forward, I would only refer to the Pogues as The Best Band Ever.
So you guessed it, I am a fan. I know everything there is to know about the band, I have every album, the originals and the re-releases, and I am always the first in line to get any new product they put out on the release date. Just when I thought that I would never get new music by them, they took me by surprise by releasing a five-disc box set a few months ago that contains rare recordings, live stuff, B-sides, demos, etc., to keep me entertained for hours and hours.
I won't review every single song, since this review would be longer than it needs to be. Let's just say that I only bought this box set because I am a fan, but I didn't expect any of the songs to be all that great. After all, if they were any good, why didn't they make it on any of the albums? The fourth track of the first disc shut me up big time. "NW3" is as good as anything they've ever recorded. Some of you will remember that song, for Shane Macgowan used the very same melody and some of the lyrics for the song "Mother Mo Chroi" on his second solo album, The Crock of Gold. It's not the only song Shane used from his time with the Pogues, as the next song, "Donegal Express," was properly recorded on his first solo release, The Snake. It is to be noted that the version we have here has been self-censored by the band, so no "F" words. We can also hear that it was shortly before Shane and the Pogues parted ways, in his "I don't give a shit anymore" period. Finally, toward the end of the first disc, the song "Pinned Down / I'm Alone in the Wilderness" bears a lot of similarities to "B & I Ferry," on Shane's second album. The first disc is definitely the best one in the set with, in addition to the aforementioned songs, brilliant pieces like "The Traveling People" and "Gabbo," to name a few, as well as traditional songs, like "Danny Boy" and "The Rocky Road to Dublin."
It's not to say that the other discs are not good. They're all amazing in their own right. It's just that the first one feels more like a real album. On the second, we are given new versions of some classics, like "Sally Maclennane," "Streams of Whiskey," "Greenland Whale Fisheries" (some might have already heard that one without knowing it, on an episode of "Futurama"), "Billy's Bones," "Rainy Night in Soho," etc. My first complaint is that it wasn't necessary to include three versions of "Fairytale of New York," especially since they're all pretty hard to listen to. It's nice to see how the song developed into the best Christmas song ever written, but after listening to them once, I am pretty much sure you will skip the tracks every time.
A lot of the songs on the third disc are unused songs (or song versions) that were recorded for Alex Cox's movies "Sid & Nancy" and "Straight to Hell." It is the second time we get to hear the song "Haunted," and it's hard not to realize Cait O'Riordan's beautiful voice. The rest of this disc is mainly composed of other Pogues' classics (there are so many). The fourth disc also contains songs Shane recorded during his half-assed solo career, as well as many demos or alternate versions of old songs.
The best part of the fifth disc is the three songs by the late Kirsty MacColl at the beginning, which is a welcome change of pace. Other than that, this disc contains a lot of post-Shane Macgowan material, so you either like it or you don't. Joe Strummer, of Clash fame, even assumes the role of lead singer for some of the songs.
It's not to say that this box set is perfect, though. A lot of this material hadn't been released before for a reason. I know fans of the Pogues will get this box set no matter what I say. For the casual fans, or even for the non-fans alike, there is still a lot to enjoy here, as there are a lot of gems that remind us why the Pogues are so great.