PEACE AND LOVE KENTUCKY
Peace and Love
"Peace and Love" shows off the progress of one of the world's most amazing aggregations, the leading London Irish folk-punk band, the Pogues.
On their third U.S. album, the Pogues show themselves to be an ensemble virtually without limitations.
I listened the other day to "Poguetry in Motion," the 1986 EP that first hooked me on the band, and I was shocked how conventionally the band was playing. I still remember how surprising, and how right, their fusion of punk energy and traditional Irish songwriting seemed when I first heard the record.
Compared to the unique rock band they've evolved into, however, they sounded like half-steppers -- as if they were considering the folk-festival circuit as a fallback option when they lost their record contract.
Now they can make their primarily acoustic instruments do anything. "Gridlock," which kicks off "Peace and Love," is a jazzy, Peter Gunn-ish instrumental carried by accordion and banjo. The double-time "Cottonfields" barrels through like the Ramones doing a field holler. "Blue Heaven" is a lively, ludicrous calypso number that makes you feel as if you're drifting down through a lake of gin, past sozzled fish and missing friends. On "USA" the band hovers in the background with a menace that equals the Velvet Underground at its harshest.
But if the Pogues now play as well as anyone, they continue to be uneven songwriters. "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," their last album, was lifted up by the rousing title song and especially by "Fairytale of New York," their finest achievement yet -- a musical short story in which the exaltation and depression of Christmas fall like a wet, heavy snow on the gutter insults and grand promises of a skid-row couple.
Put one song that good on an album and the lesser songs arrange themselves around it like so many point guards feeding the ball into Kareem. "Peace and Love," though, is a collection of middling songs without any great ones. It needs a pivot man so badly it should trade for Mel Turpin.
And it causes a little concern about the direction of the band. "'Peace and Love' is the Pogues' most democratic effort yet," proclaims a press release that accompanied the review copy of the record. It cited the number of songs written by members other than Shane MacGowan, the stump-toothed, raspy-voiced, well-read romantic who is the band's front man and unofficial leader. But democracy can be a disaster for any creative enterprise.
Of the songs by other Pogues, only the loopy "Blue Heaven," written and sung by bassist Darryl Hunt and guitarist Philip Chevron, brings anything to the record. The worst of them, Terry Woods' "Young Ned of the Hill," brings the album to a virtual dead halt three songs in. While it rains curses upon Oliver Cromwell -- talk about your controversial targets! -- it's the sort of quaint bit of Celticizing that this band's energy and smarts promised to purge from Irish music.
Worse, MacGowan seems oddly dispirited, singing in a mumble much of the time and writing a rather undistinguished lot of songs.
He hits the mark twice. "White City" is a tumbling travelogue through a decaying cityscape on "just another bloody rainy day." "Misty Morning, Albert Bridge" is the album's essay in sentimentality, a beggar's lost-love song drawn with sure details: "So I drew up, pulled the sheets around my head/Tried to sleep, dream my way back to you again."
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the test of a first-rate mind was to hold two contradictory ideas and still be able to function.
The Pogues are a first-rate band because they put themselves at the crossroads of virtually every set of contradictions they can find. They can bring entirely opposite feelings into the same song, and play them off each other for a greater truth and depth. That's why "Fairytale of New York" comes closer to the texture of a short story than almost anything else in rock. I feel certain the Pogues have more of the same in them, assuming this democracy movement doesn't get out of hand.
The Pogues will play at Bogart's, 2621 Vine St. in Cincinnati, next
Saturday. Tickets are $13.50 in advance, $14.50 the day of show or $12.50
if you have a college ID. They're available from Ticketron outlets or by
calling (800) 225-7337. The doors open at 8 p.m.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.