Picks and Pans Review: Peace and Love

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Pogues

The great thing about the Pogues is that it's impossible to understand a word of Shane MacGowan's whiskey-voiced singing, and it hardly matters. The Irish ire comes through.

On this, the band's most democratic effort, the slight, snaggle-toothed MacGowan, who has always been the group's moving spirit, shares songwriting and vocalizing tasks with more coherent band members. There are compositions by guitarist Philip Chevron, including the album's best cut, an obsessive love song called "Lorelei," whose lush rush of desperation is heightened by singer Kirsty McColl's breathless harmonies. Other tracks were penned by Terry Woods, Darryl Hunt and Jem Finer, who among them play banjo, sax, hurdy-gurdy, bass, concertina and mandola. Spreading things around was smart, since any band with the instruments to form a national pub orchestra—bodhran (a handheld tambourine-like drum), cittern (a Renaissance guitar) and tin whistle are other atypical accessories—should be more than a vehicle for MacGowan's addled visions.

Much of Peace and Love's best material still comes from MacGowan, and no one else mixes the usual Pogue-style drinking jigs with shots of joy and anger the way he can. But he doesn't slight songs he didn't write. On Finer's "Misty Morning, Albert Bridge," for instance, the rolling layers of brass and strings strike a nice contrast with MacGowan's raspy vocals. "Cotton Fields" is killer thrash, with MacGowan ranting repeatedly, "They're gonna crucify you/ Crucify you/ Crucify you/ In those old cotton fields back home." Fans of the Pogues' barroom brawl songs will be pleased by the rough-and-tumble "Boat Train" and "Gartloney Rats."

Unlike last year's brilliant If I Should Fall from Grace with God, this album uses a lot of studio manipulation, allowing producer Steve (U2) Lillywhite to give it a more polished sound. The album is more eclectic than the Pogues' previous work too, although at heart it is still the salute to/ trashing of traditional Irish folk ballads that make the Pogues unique.

No band is quite like the Pogues, which seems strange since their style is so straightforward, all the influences aside. This album is energetic, furious good listening, everything that rock and roll should be. Only one question stands between the Pogues and the mainstream: Is America ready to turn an unimposing redhead in need of dental work into a rock star? (Island)

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