MacGowan Makes Simple Irish Classic

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle
Author: Gina Arnold
Contributor: DzM
Copyright: (c) The San Francisco Chronicle 1995

Shane MacGowan is the former lead singer for the Pogues, whose canny blending of Irish traditionalism with the fury of punk rock made a wildly affecting mix. MacGowan’s new band, the Popes (which includes a few former Pogues and gives a credit to Johnny Depp), doesn’t stray far from Pogues territory. He still sings raspy songs about Dublin, drinking and dissipation, all set within a musical context of distinctly Irish origin. The tunes are replete with fillips of Irish harp, uillean pipes and tin whistle.

MacGowan’s songs invariably celebrate the well-known foibles of his particular ethnicity and religion, and they do so with characteristic Irish charm. The titles alone tell a pretty tall tale: ”Nancy Whiskey,” ”That Woman’s Got Me Drinking,” ”A Mexican Funeral in Paris,” ”Her Father Don’t Like Me Anyway.”

Some of the songs — ”Donegal Express,” ”Roddy McCorley” and ”The Snake With Eyes of Garnet” — refer to still-unresolved passages of Ireland’s difficult past, thus adding a rare sense of history to an otherwise rollicking rock album.

MacGowan may sing as if he’s a boaster and a sot, but his gnarled voice contains a hint of regret that invariably wipes out any idea that he is unrepentant. This is particularly true on ”Haunted,” a lovely ballad about obsessive love on which he sings a duet with his compatriot Sinead O’Connor.

Besides his larger-than-life personality, MacGowan’s great strength is his reticence. By staying well within his range of musical expertise, and by singing solely of things he completely understands, he has created a simple but classic record about modern Irish angst.