ARTIST The Pogues ALBUM If I Should Fall From Grace With God (Island Records, 1988) AMPLE EVIDENCE OF GREATNESS By the late ’80s, there were snickers that snaggletoothed howler Shane MacGowan (photo, center) and his band of dulcimer-wielding hooligans were tipping over into novelty-act territory — a sort of Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle meets Lord of the Dance. But then Grace dropped out of the sky, and for a while the Pogues weren’t just drunks, they were dazzling inebriates. The original album cover gave a hint of what they were up to; a doctored photo showed the Anglo-Irish punk-folk crew getting jiggy with Dublin’s dead literary god, James Joyce. Like pages ripped from Ulysses and dunked in warm stout, Grace is vulgar (”Bottle of Smoke”), hilarious (”Fairytale of New York,” Shane’s foulmouthed duet with the late songbird Kirsty MacColl), frantic (”Fiesta”), sappy (”The Broad Majestic Shannon”), and just plain weird (”Worms”). AWE-INSPIRING TRACK ”Thousands Are Sailing,” the greatest song ever written about Irish emigration to America. By the second verse, as the dirt-poor narrator of the song spins through Times Square marveling at the splendor of Manhattan — ”We stepped hand in hand on Broadway/Like the first man on the moon” — the Hoover Dam wouldn’t be able to hold back your tears. LINGERING EFFECTS If Grace was the Pogues’ London Calling — the album that blasted their tunnel vision to smithereens — it wound up doing the same thing to them that London Calling did to the Clash: It ruined them. Pretty soon the fun went out of their live performances, and the experimental dabbling got ridiculous (on the next album, 1989’s icky Peace and Love, the Pogues made catastrophic forays into… jazz). Shane MacGowan was booted out of the band for bad behavior in 1991, and the Pogues soldiered on toward obscurity. A suitably Irish fate.
If I Should Fall From Grace With God