Serpentine Gentleman, Please

Source: Melody Maker
Author: Cathi Unsworth
Copyright: (c) Melody Maker

The way some would have it, it’s as easy to take the piss out of Shane MacGowan as it is for him to have a night out on it. His decline in the last days of The Pogues was a tragedy, but now he’s back in fine fighting form, reports an exultant CATHI UNSWORTH.

A CONFESSIONAL then, from a raggedly defiant troubadour, a gin-soaked genius who has already provided 2 of this year’s highlights – a full-blooded St Patrick’s Night comeback gig and the most punk rock performance “Top of the Pops” has seen since… punk rock. “The Snake” then sees Shane nailed up on the cross for mistaking rock ’n’ roll for religion, searching for Christ and an errant woman with green eyes. And, along the way, bonding with an exotic collection of gangsters in “A Mexican Funeral In Paris”, shagging other people’s women across the breadth Of Ireland and holding in his hands the charmed snake ring Of the villainous rake who was hanged in Dublin in 1819. Say your Hail Marys and your breath.

Having trawled his soul through the gutters of a thousand city streets, revisiting the scene of his every crime, admonishing himself with the darkest humour this side of Nick Cave – and laughing like a drain at everyone who’d want to see him down and out for good-Shane MacGowan is absolved and reborn.

But to begin at the beginning: “The Church Of The Holy spook” recalls the rockabilly fervour that fired The Nips, befitting such a bloody, biographical scourging. “Rock ‘n’ Roll you crucified me/Left me all alone,” MacGowan howls; ‘I never should have turned my back on the old folks back at home. Next up, the hilarious single, “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking”, which combines a lyric that is both witty and self- depreciating with the classic riff of “Gloria”. But is it also drinking buddy Van Morrison who turns up as “a fat monk singing Gloria” to steal away Shane’s “Victoria”? If it is, then Van has, in the opening verse, inspired Shane to write his most memorable lyric on the wretchedness of suffering alone in the big city since The Pogues’ “The Old Main Drag”.

lndeed, along with the feisty, fiery brilliance that The Popes make out of reels and jigs, punk and rock ‘n’ roll, this album’s most astounding quality is the sheer brilliance of the poetry Shane’s demons have shaken from his pen. He describes the malaise Of London as accurately as master novelists Patrick Hamilton and the late Derek Raymond (who, incidentally adored The Pogues), and the beguiling often dangerous beauty of the Emerald Isle as adroitly as Joyce. Check the opening lines Of “Aisling”: “See the moon is once more rising/Above our land of black and green/ Hear the rebel’s voice is calling/ I shall not die though you bury me!”‘

His story-telling reaches its peak on the colourful “A Mexican Funeral In Paris” and the enchanted “The Snake with Eyes Of Garnet”. He even adds to Gerry Rafferty’s “Her Father Didn’t like Me Anyway”, a line Of truth and wonder: “She left without award today/Her father was a righ c**t, anyway.” Shane MacGowan, like any hero worth having, is a lover, a fighter, a wild bull rider, always there to sock you right between the eyes with the living truths that created his scars just when you least expect him. Truths that apply not just to him, but universally.

Here are more songs to astound and amaze, to drink to from holy chalices and stained beer glasses, until the end of the world.