Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 17: The Pogues, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"

Artist: The Pogues
Song: "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"
Album: If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Year: 1988

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Though it does not happen nearly as often as one might want, when two seemingly opposite sounds are able to be fused together in perfect balance, it almost always yields the most exciting and original music that one can find.  Across the decades, there are scattered artists who find ways to blend sounds together that nobody else would dream of, and there is simply no denying the massive influence that such artists have on the world around them.  Among these musical visionaries, few are as often overlooked as Shane MacGowan, and the way in which he brought harmony to a combination of punk and Irish folk music with his band, The Pogues.  Throughout the 1980's, The Pogues offered some of the most original and energetic music of any band on the planet, and they were able to excel in everything from beautiful ballads to somewhat dark humor to high-octane anthems.  After recording a pair of impressive albums, the group entered the studio again, under the watchful eye of Steve Lillywhite, and the resulting record, 1988's If I Should Fall From Grace With God, remains one of the most passionate and outright beautiful albums ever recorded.  Showcasing all of the bands' diverse sounds and talents, the record is an unprecedented journey through musical experimentation, and there are few songs that better define The Pogues than the albums' magnificent title track.

Released as the albums' second single, it presents a stark contrast to the bands' now-legendary, "Fairytale Of New York."  However, one can easily argue that"If I Should Fall From Grace With God" is far more accurate a representation of the sound of The Pogues, as it brings a far greater tempo and more jovial mood.  This, in many ways, is the secret to the music of The Pogues, as the manner with which they blend together the feelings and tones of traditional Irish folk music with the energy and spirit of punk rock is unlike any other band in history.  Incorporating a cavalcade of instruments, the wall of sounds that comes forth on "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" makes it one of the most irresistibly enjoyable songs, regardless of ones' musical preference.  From the accordion of James Fearnley to the array of banjos, whistles, and guitars from the remainder of the band, it is impossible not to get caught up in the mood, and the enjoyment The Pogues had recording this song comes through quite clearly.  Drummer Andrew Ranken gives the song a fantastic bounce, and the entire band seems to careen around every corner with stunning speed, yet not a moment on the song seems forced or out of place.  Furthermore, the production is far cleaner than their previous efforts, and "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" proves that this more "proper" recording sound can be achieved without sacrificing any of the bite and edge that define the sound of The Pogues.

Along with the full, joyous sound of the entire band, The Pogues are simply not The Pogues without the presence of frontman and founder, Shane MacGowan.  After hearing his voice for only a few moments, one can easily hear just how many later artists he influenced with his distinctive vocal approach.  Often slurring his words, and spitting them with a power that often overshadowed his amazing poetic talents, MacGowan set the standard for nearly every Irish-punk crossover band that followed.  Yet on "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," his words are more comprehensible than most of his songs, and one can easily feel the roots-based tone within each line.  Though the music and his singing are rather spirited, the song itself is rather dark, and this downtrodden, almost hopeless view found in his lyrics perfectly present how brilliant a writer there is within MacGowan.  Setting the tone for the song with the opening lines, of, "If I should fall from grace with God, where no doctor can relieve me, if I'm buried 'neath the sod, but the angels won't receive me, let me go, boys, let me go, boys, let me go down in the mud, where the rivers all run dry," there is a strange, but clear "every man" quality to the song.  It is this attitude that endeared the band to so many, gaining them one of the most loyal followings in history, as there are few singers that can be as easily related with as MacGowan, and the sentiments he presents, as well as the way he sings here give all the proof one needs to understand why he was such a pivotal performer in the overall history of music.

Strangely enough, The Pogues rarely receive the credit they so richly deserve for their unrelenting pursuit of unique musical perfection, as well as the fact that, simply put, before their time, there was no other group attempting to create similar music.  Their superb fusion of Irish folk music with the power and energy of punk rock is unlike anything else, and this delicate balance is one of the few sounds that can truly be enjoyed by music fans of any age or musical persuasion.  In every aspect of their music, there is a "working class" feel to the song, and one can easily imagine any of their recordings being played in a small pub for the enjoyment of the locals.  The fact that The Pogues were able to keep such a sound, even in a large studio is a testament to their talents, and they never sounded better than the songs on If I Should Fall From Grace With God.  The fact that the songs sound so clean, yet do not sacrifice any of the grit or sweat that can be felt on their earlier recordings is what makes the album so special, and it is a record that quickly works its way into the heart of every listener.  From the stunning ballads to the more politically charged songs, the record features every side of The Pogues, and few bands of any genre have shown as much diversity within their sound as one can hear here.  Yet it is the title track of If I Should Fall From Grace With God that stands out the most, summing up the energy, talent, and sheer musical genius of The Pogues, and there is simply no other song in history that can even remotely compare to the musical bliss found within this groundbreaking track.

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