I spent Friday getting a new tattoo (or at least half of one) taking up the last available real estate on my arms in the process. It is only half done (colouring to come in December) but I already love it. Kudos to Leroy at Union Tattoo for another great piece of body art!
Now I just need to grow a third arm…
Disc 925 is….Crock of Gold
Artist: Shane MacGowan and the Popes
Year of Release: 1997
What’s up with the Cover? It is a painting done by frontman Shane MacGowan himself. The title is not provided but I call it “Four Homeless Leprechauns”. Kudos to MacGowan for trying other art forms, but this picture doesn’t work for me.
How I Came To Know It: When Shane MacGowan left the Pogues I did too (they weren’t the same without him) and I assumed he would drift off into obscurity. Then many years later my friend Greg played a song by “Shane MacGowan and the Popes” and I realized he’d resurfaced. This particular album has eluded me for years but I found a used copy out of the blue at a local record store a couple of months ago. Please keep selling off your music collection, digital people!
How It Stacks Up: I have both studio albums by Shane MacGowan and the Popes as well as a best of/rarities collection. I also have a Popes album where MacGowan is no longer a full time member of the band, but appears on three tracks. Of the three studio albums, I put “Crock of Gold” second. The ‘best of’ album doesn’t stack up, as long time readers will know.
Ratings: 3 stars
“Crock of Gold” doesn’t live up to the lofty promise in its title, but it is nevertheless a good record. It’s more a crock of well-polished copper, which could’ve been a crock of silver if it had been a little more focused.
This is the second album that Shane MacGowan made with his new band the Popes, after he was turfed from the Pogues and while you can say what you want about what he’s like as a band mate, his talent is undeniable. Of the 17 tracks – more on that in a moment – MacGowan wrote or co-wrote all but five.
If you know the Pogues then you know the Popes, as MacGowan does not branch far from his roots on “Crock of Gold.” This is a collection of lilting Irish folk/rock songs that gently roll along like the swell of the Atlantic. There are few surprises, but that is OK because while the Popes may not switch it up much, they are very good at what they do. The band is tight and provide a lively backdrop upon which MacGowan can deliver his unique slurring style.
MacGowan is in fine form, by which I mean he sounds both brilliant and drunk in equal measure. He has always had the skill of sounding like he’s making it up as he goes along while keeping perfect time. It must be hard work to sound so perfectly casual. However, the age old problem of not being able to understand him half the time continues.
Many of the penny whistle and fiddle riffs providing colour for the songs sound very traditional, but it is pretty common practice in Irish folk music to throw in a bit of something old and I took no offence. On “Back in the County Hell” the tune is unmistakably “Me and Bobby McGee” and lest there be any doubt, MacGowan even sings a few lines right out of that song in the middle of it.
“B&I Ferry” channels some Clash-like reggae beats and “Ceilidh Cowboy” tries to add some western flare, but neither song really worked for me. Both felt like they were pressing too hard to be different amid a sea of very cohesive sound on the record.
That sea is pleasant but a bit too deep; “Crock of Gold” has 17 songs and a running time just shy of a full hour. The songs are all OK, but there are just too many of them. Musicians take heed; just because a CD can hold a lot of music isn’t an excuse to put more on it. This was a common problem in the nineties that more recent artists seem to have finally gotten over (maybe too over given the number of 30 minute records being released lately).
The album features three traditional songs, the best of which is “Spanish Lady,” a song about a man walking the streets of Dublin at midnight and catching a glimpse of a Spanish woman washing her hair by candlelight. I’m not sure what she was doing washing her hair at that hour, but the song makes you appreciate the moment.
Another favourite is “St. John of Gods” which features a character who goes around drunkenly telling everyone (including the courts) “F’ yez all”. At 7:17 this song goes on too long, and it’s impressive that it remains enjoyable throughout, despite spending a majority of the time telling you off. If you don’t like songs taking that long to tell someone off, well, you know what to do.
With six of the seventeen tracks also appearing on my “best of” compilation (including three of my top six listed below) I was sore-tested to give up on this record and clear up space, but there is enough other good stuff that I’m sticking with it for now.
Best tracks: Paddy Rolling Stone, Rock N’ Roll Paddy, Paddy Public Enemy No. 1, Lonesome Highway, Spanish Lady, St. John of Gods