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9th February 2012

Classic album: The Pogues – Red Roses For Me

A balance between the raw passion of punk and the delicate beauty of traditional folk make this an album of undiminished importance.

The Pogues
Red Roses For Me
WEA International
Released 1984

The Pogues’ reputation has taken a battering of late, with their place on the punk pantheon looking increasingly suspect. This loss of credibility, thanks in no small part to interminable “last ever” Christmas tours and last November’s hideous Tesco advert, should not distract from the band’s excellent discography. Tellingly, this excellence has been recognised by artists on both sides of the Atlantic, with bands such as Titus Andronicus and The Libertines quick to laud Shane McGowan and company. Indeed, even the most cursory inspection of The Pogues’ early career reveals a group with the precious ability to produce music that is at once innovative and anthemic.

The band’s first album, Red Roses For Me, was released to widespread acclaim in 1984 and remains the definitive example of the group’s unique sound. The unbridled creativity of the post-punk era is evident throughout the record, with the seven-piece seamlessly blending traditional Irish folk music with the raw energy of punk. The irrepressible McGowan is inevitably the album’s focal point, whether as a lead vocalist or songwriter. The English-born singer’s rasping tones imbue famous Irish ballads such as ‘Sea Shanty’ with a lecherous, desperate edge, while original compositions such as ‘Transmetropolitan’ and ‘Streams of Whiskey’ are timeless odes to being young, skint and drunk in the city.

Beneath the rugged tales of urban debauchery, however, the album contains a number of startlingly tender moments. Peter “Spider” Stacey’s tin whistle turns ‘The Auld Triangle’ into a haunting tale of imprisonment, which deliberately echoes the internment scandal of contemporary Northern Ireland. The album closes with the gorgeous ‘Kitty’, in which McGowan’s vocals are leant a wonderful vulnerability by James Fearnley’s accordion. It is this balance between the raw passion of punk and the delicate beauty of traditional folk which makes Red Roses For Me an album undiminished importance.

The Pogues – Kitty

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