Liner Note Author: Spider Stacy.
Photographer: Steve Pyke.
There's little question that the Pogues were a seminal band, blessed with great musicians, and led by Shane MacGowan, a songwriter of major vision and talent. This was apparent on their initial Stiff singles but it truly blazed on their Elvis Costello-produced second studio album, Rum Sodomy & the Lash, a record that artfully walked the razor's edge between Irish traditionalism and venomous, working-class punk. Though they became more accomplished in later albums, they never strayed from this template. What did change, however, was the group's consistency, largely because their fortunes were tied too closely to those of MacGowan. His talent burned intensely, but like a supernova, it flamed out quickly as the singer sank into an abyss of liquor and drugs. He could still turn out some great moments, but his unpredictability became a major liability for the group's very sanity and they had to let him go. Ironically, without Shane aboard, the Pogues started to drift and they only lasted through two more albums before calling it a day, leaving behind a body of work that is very well summarized on this compilation, The Very Best of the Pogues. This concentrates heavily on the group's first three albums, where MacGowan's writing was its sharpest and the band sounded best, but it also picks up highlights from more stylisically diverse albums like Peace and Love and Hell's Ditch. That's not to say this is a perfect collection; it has a tendency to play toward their traditional folk inclinations, which means it overlooks such wonderful moments as their stomping Motown salute "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah," one of the very best singles of the late '80s and early '90s. Even so, this collection is as good a single-disc retrospective as it could be, and it comes very close to capturing the Pogues at their very best. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine