The problem is that this 19-song hit is dwarfed by its own success, which tends to happen when the fourth song on the album is probably the most famous song ever written.
Okay, 'Fairytale of New York' is absolutely glorious, but there is so much more in a similar vein on this album. 'Lullaby of London' is a very similar piece of music, a drunken McGowan giving his faltering testimony. The themes of Irish Immigration are present throughout the album, especially in 'Thousands are Sailing', a massive hit in its own right, and 'Streets of Sorrow/The Birmingham Six', especially relevant given the recent protests. The grimy, gilded past of Ireland can be read in the folk, the progressive, future of the Irish people and nation in the rock. It is the perfect presentation of the country and the diaspora in the late 1980s, and suitably troubled to reflect…well, the troubles.
It's always a pleasure to listen to artists leaving their comfort zone
But it’s also got more going for it than simple Irish folk and punk. Between the release of Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985) and If I should fall from Grace with God (1988), the band split from their producer, the infamous Elvis Costello, and changed their line-up. By the time this album was released, only two members had actually been born in Ireland. The line-up now far closer resembled the Irish diaspora across the world, and the music reflects the new internationalism of the band. There are strong Spanish and Turkish influences in the (surprisingly named) 'Sketches of Spain' and 'Turkish song of the damned'. It's always a pleasure to listen to artists leaving their comfort zone, yet it's also very nice to go back to the classic genre, and the international basis is perfectly countered on the Expanded Edition, by two songs recorded with The Dubliners, and classic folk-influenced songs like 'Shane Bradley' and 'The Broad Majestic Shannon'.
This album is the key reason why I think it is impossible to categorize The Pogues. What do they play? Irish Folk, Irish Punk, Rock, International music, ballads. The answer is simple: yes.
The curse of Christmas classics is they morph into their own identity, disconnected from the band who recorded them. I make a point of asking anyone who say they love 'Fairytale of New York' if they’ve listened to the album, and then assaulting them with a barrage of Pogues adoration. The lack of attention that If I Should Fall from Grace with God and The Pogues as a band receive, compared to the Christmas classic, is criminal. They are spectacular, and this album doesn’t even include pieces of poetry like 'Sally MacLennane' and 'Dirty Old Town'.
There is no album on this earth that I think you should all listen to more. Everyone has dipped their toe in and loved 'Fairytale of New York', so take the plunge, and get to know this incredible band.