Best albums of 1988: #1 The Pogues “If I should fall from grace with god”

Yeah. These guys. You know them. You love them.

Though it’s likely they didn’t actually invent the whole Celtic folk punk genre, The Pogues certainly popularized it, inspiring a whole boatload of next generation musicians to form bands like Flogging Molly, The Dropkick Murphys, and The Mahones. Interesting, then, that the group was formed in London, rather than Dublin, and only ever included two Irish born members in their large and rotating contingent.

Getting started in 1982 with original members Shane MacGowan, Spider Stacy, and Jem Finer, their name evolved out of an anglicisation of ‘póg mo thóin’, celtic for ‘kiss my arse’. The Pogues released a total of seven studio albums before calling it quits in 1996. However, for many, there’s only two albums in their catalogue (their second and third) that really mattered and between those two, the debate rages on over which is the superior.

For me, “If I should fall from grace with god” only just wins out over “Rum sodomy and the lash” and it is the mere presence of one great, transcendent song that will surely be discussed a little later that does the trick. Both albums are solid and complete albums. Where “Rum” is slightly more focused on the Celtic folk punk sound, however, “If I should fall from grace” branches out quite a bit more, dabbling and cavorting around the world of music. Many of the band’s contingent have also pointed to this album as their favourite and best, agreeing that nowhere else were they as on their game. And it’s true that as varied as the songs are across the track listing, nothing feels amiss or disjointed. An amazing feat considering the varied sounds and instrumentation that make up its whole and the contributions that included an additional eight musicians to the eight players that made up the band at that particular time.

There are fifteen tracks in total on “If I should fall from grace with god” from which I could have chosen my three picks for you, and one was a given, leaving me two. It was an onerous task but I perservered. You’re welcome.


“If I should fall from grace with god”: From what I’ve read, the title track on the album was originally recorded for the “Straight to hell” soundtrack, albeit at a slower speed. I’ve never heard it but don’t think I’d want to. The pace of the version on the album seems perfect to me, a rousing bar number that feels precariously close to shambles. And that’s the beauty of The Pogues, especially on this album, where the musicianship is so tight it feels loose and free. And I feel a lot of the credit has to go to the frontman at the time, the notorious Shane MacGowan, a deceptively great songwriter whose growling and screaming vocals create an energy all of their own. The rest of The Pogues’ cast can only help but follow along, navigating such speeds by the seats of their pants. “If I’m buried ‘neath the sod but the angels won’t receive me, let me go, boys.” Indeed, Shane, indeed.

“Thousands are sailing”: Starts off haunting with a pluck on the banjo and a hollow, echoing flute, sounding like they’re being played by the ghosts in the profound depths of the coffin ship’s hull. The music gets more spritely from there, gentle on the verses, just enough to urge MacGowan along with accordion melodies and incidental drumming, but picks up substantially at the choruses, drumming heavy handed and accordion, mandolin, and banjo becoming a hootenanny, almost drowning out the singing. Phil Chevron’s words as sung by MacGowan, though, never stray from the heartbreak, sowing the tale of thousands of Irish immigrants and of those who never actually survived the trip to the US shores. “Ah, no, says he, ’twas not to be. On a coffin ship I came here. And I never even got so far that they could change my name.”

“Fairytale of New York”: Not only is this now considered one of the all-time great Christmas tunes, ranking up there with Nat King Cole’s iconic “Christmas song”, Bing Crosby’s ubiquitous “Little Drummer Boy” duet with David Bowie, and Band Aid’s fundraising theme “Do they know it’s Christmas time”, but it’s also one of my all-time favourite Pogues tunes. At it’s heart, it’s a story of love that’s lost and found again on Christmas day, all brought to life by the excellent imagery of characters created in the juxtaposition of the rough and raucous voice of Shane MacGowan against the beautiful pipes of guest vocalist Kirsty MacColl. Her call and response banter, matching MacGowan’s snarl and rasp with just the right degree of attitude and defiance, really makes this song the classic that it is. Her disillusioned muse ‘character’ holds nothing back, even the love that she unbelievable still feels for the character of her drunken partner in MacGowan. The lyrics are grittier here than you would normally expect from a heartwarming Christmas tune but these just make the softer moments all the more mind blowing. Witness below:

Kirsty:
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you…

Shane:
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you

Indeed, my wife Victoria loved these lyrics and the sentiment of building your dreams around someone you love so much that she insisted we work them into our own wedding vows almost 10 years ago. Who was I to argue?


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”
9. Erasure “The innocents”
8. Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”
6. Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”
5. R.E.M. “Green”
4. Pixies “Surfer rosa”
3. The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”
2. The Wonder Stuff “The eight legged groove machine”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 1988: #3 The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”

In a previous post on these pages, I told the story of how I worked in the tool rental industry in the years immediately following graduation and during this time, met a guy named Chris, whose last name may now forever escape me, and with whom I shared musical tastes. Often while working together, we would talk music and share concert stories and recommendations and often with him, The Waterboys would be mentioned. I think the first time the name came up was after I told him about how much of a Wonder Stuff fan I was. After that, he would ask me, “Did you listen to them yet?” (‘them’ being The Waterboys), to which I would ashamedly shake my head in the negative. After a few weeks of this, I finally gave a listen to the title track off “Fisherman’s blues”, one of three albums he listed as recommended (“you’ll love any one of them”). I did enjoy the song but then, later the same evening, I heard it again during the opening credits of “Waking Ned Devine”, a film I had randomly picked to go see at my local rep theatre. It then seemed to me fated that I should fall in love with the song. I went out to buy the album shortly afterwards on CD and fell in love with the whole darned thing too.

The Waterboys are mainly the musical vehicle for creative force and frontman Mike Scott. He formed the group in 1983 and, save for a few years where he released work under his own name, the band has been a going concern with a rotating cast of characters. The only other long standing member that is with the group to this day is Irish fiddler Steve Wickham, who helped along the first change in sound after joining the force in 1985. Prior to the fourth album, which is the album of our discussion today, The Waterboys’ music was post-punk based with only hints of folk. “Fisherman’s blues” came out of lengthy recording sessions in Ireland and was heavily influenced by the traditional folk music of that country. It divided listeners at the time between those fans that wanted more of the ‘big music’ and those that loved the new sound. Nowadays, though, it is widely considered the band’s masterpiece.

The mass amounts of recordings that resulted from the year long sessions were such that, more than a decade later, Scott was able to put out a whole other excellent album, a sequel of sorts, from the pieces that didn’t make the original cut. That also means to me that “Fisherman’s blues” is a complete album, devoid of filler, and almost impossible to distill down to three picks for you. Still, I have managed a close approximation. Have a listen.


”Strange boat”: Track number three is a mellow number on the album. Acoustic strum, lazy beat and bass just plod along as a Mike Scott throws out a number of metaphors for this bizarre journey we call life. “We’re living in a strange time, working for a strange goal. We’re turning flesh and body into soul.” But if that sentiment’s not beautiful enough for you, Steve Wickham takes the song out of pedestrian territory with his heaven-meandering fiddles.

”And a band on the ear”: Track seven is nine minutes on the album and was released as the second single in a six and half minute version. It’s a lively, boppy jam that gives guest musician, Máirtín O’Connor, lots of room to prowl with his accordion and of course, Wickham to flail us again with his fiddles. It just begs for you to get up and dance. Meanwhile, Mike Scott regales us in each verse of tales of past loves, saving the best (and current) one for last. “So my woman of the hearthfire, harbour of my soul. I watch you lightly sleeping and sense the dream that does unfold (like gold). You to me are treasure, you to me are dear so I’ll give you my love with a bang on the ear.” And if you’re wondering, “bang on the ear” is not threatening violence but an expression of Celtic origin that refers to an affectionate kiss.

”Fisherman’s blues”: Though as mentioned above, the title track and first single off “Fisherman’s blues” was my introduction to the band, this is not the only reason it’s still my all time favourite Waterboys track. The other reason is more obvious than that, it’s just pure awesome. Here, Wickham’s fiddles are paired with Anthony Thistlethwaite’s mandolin. The two together create a raucous kitchen party all by themselves and the bass and drums can’t help but follow their jaunty lead and Scott yelps enthusiastic “Woo!”s in spite of himself. The lyrics describe Scott’s yearning for a simpler and freer life, like that of a fisherman or train engine driver, at the same time knowing that such a life is not without pitfalls. However… “Well I know I will be loosened from bonds that hold me fast, that the chains all hung around me, will fall away at last. And on that fine and fateful day, I will take me in my hands. I will ride on the train. I will be the fisherman.” It does sound very romantic in his words and music, doesn’t it? Woooo!!!


Check back next Thursday for album #2. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”
9. Erasure “The innocents”
8. Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”
6. Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”
5. R.E.M. “Green”
4. Pixies “Surfer rosa”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 1988: #4 Pixies “Surfer rosa”

It was my friend Tim that introduced me to the Pixies, though I didn’t get them right away. They were just so radically different from the AM radio I was still transitioning from at the start of the 1990s. But he definitely tried. Every mixed cassette tape I got from his direction included a Pixies track (along with a Mission and a Sisters track, but those are other stories) so I got used to seeing their name. One Friday night, during my weekly ritual of watching and recording music videos off MuchMusic’s City Limits, I pressed the Record button and added the video for “Alec Eiffel” to my collection. It was this knee jerk reaction to a band name I recognized that became my gateway to the now legendary quartet from Boston.

I shortly thereafter bought a used copy of their second long player, “Doolittle”, which I now love unconditionally. However, the debut album took me much longer to appreciate. Perhaps even a decade, I couldn’t tell you now how long I held out but it all seems silly now, given that I hold all four of their original albums with such reverence. “Surfer rosa”, though, was a game changer. David Lovering, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and Black Francis let their don’t give a shit attitudes carry over from from their first ever recorded release, the mini-album “Come on pilgrim”, mixing punk, surf-rock, and whatever else they pleased into their incendiary noise. It is seen as a template for what 90s alt-rock would eventually become, not just for the sheer brashness of the music but also its iconoclastic production, netting future jobs for Steve Albini with artists like PJ Harvey and Nirvana.

So for an album that didn’t sell particularly well (taking decades to reach gold status), it is quite an influential one and one that sits high on many best rock album lists, even winning over many of the critics that didn’t quite get it at the time. And though the whole album has become ingrained in my musical fabric, I still have my favourites and I’ve included them here in my three picks for you.


”Bone machine”: “This is a song for Carol.” Except that it’s not, it’s really a song about sexual deviancy in a few forms. Namely, molestation by priests (“I was talking to preachy-preach about kissy-kiss”) and infidelity and possibly, nymphomania (“Your blistered lips have got a kiss, they taste a bit like everyone”). The opening track on the album, “Bone machine”, is discordance personified, pummelling drums, punished guitar strings, screaming and yelping and carrying on. And then, they just pause everything while Black and Deal harmonize sweetly together: “Your bone’s got a little machine.” Oh, the Pixies.

”Gigantic”: “Gigantic” was the only single to be released off the album and happens to be the second longest track on an album of short bursts of adrenaline. It was one of only two tracks not sung by Black Francis in all of the Pixies’ catalogue and bassist Kim Deal, who did sing it, also co-wrote it with Francis. It is also remarkable for its muscular and big bass line that sets the tone and feel. Deal’s vocals are a case in contrasts, see-sawing between soft and delicate and violent rage, especially when she is joined by Francis at the choruses. Everything I’ve read suggests the song is about a married women watching a teenaged black man making love to another woman and fantasizing that it is happening to her. “Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic / A big, big love.” No, their lyrics aren’t irreverent at all.

”Where is my mind?”: If it wasn’t iconic beforehand, it definitely was after it was used to soundtrack the final moments of 1999’s “Fight club”. Indeed, “Where is my mind?” was never released as a single and yet it is considered one of the band’s best known songs. Francis has said that the song was inspired by a scuba diving experience but true to form, there definitely seems to be a lot more going on here than just talking to fish under water. It’s all very surreal and confusing and the music doesn’t help to steady the ship. Discordant (there’s that adjective again) and topsy-turvy, Santiago’s electric guitar line rolls over and over like crashing waves while the acoustic guitar stands timidly in its shadow. Lovering’s drum is big and sparse while Francis’s vocals range from soft coos to yells and yelps and Deal adds her echoing howl throughout. Wonderful stuff.


Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”
9. Erasure “The innocents”
8. Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”
6. Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”
5. R.E.M. “Green”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.