* * * THE POGUES. "If I Should Fall From Grace With God." Island. The 1986 LP, "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash," by this band of Irish rogues was such an unexpected pleasure that its follow-up was bound to be a bit disappointing. And while the qualities that made the music on that LP so memorable remain basically intact, the beautiful resonances that informed it are slightly tarnished here.
Traditional Irish folk musicians with heavy punk damage, the Pogues do two types of song: lyrical ballads and frantic rave-ups that combine equal parts Irish jig, mariachi music, Spike Jones and punk. They struck the perfect balance between those disparate moods last time out, but "If I Should Fall" goes a bit heavy on the rave-ups. These drinking songs are essentially tales of high adventure told with plenty of Irish slang. This hyperbolic style of musical narrative is a venerated folk (and drinking) tradition, and the Pogues have it down to a fine art.
However, the Pogues' brawling beer songs pale next to leader Shane MacGowan's ballads, the best of which have the timeless grandeur of material by Richard Thompson and the early work of Robbie Robertson. Six of the tracks here fall into that category, including "A Fairytale of New York," a duet with Kirsty MacColl for two lovebird barflies (a hit in England, it owes a tip of the hat to Tom Waits) and "Thousands Are Sailing," an immigrant's recollection of Ellis Island, and "Streets of Sorrow."