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The Ultimate Collection

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Album Review

For those who only know the Pogues from their duet Christmas hit with Kirsty MacColl, "Fairytale of New York," or don't know anything about the Irish group at all, this album is an excellent place to start. Featuring 23 highlights from the group's catalog — with three tracks from Red Roses for Me, eight from Rum Sodomy & the Lash, five from If I Should Fall from Grace with God, three each from Peace and Love and Hell's Ditch, and just one track from Waiting for Herb, recorded as Shane MacGowan sank deeper into alcoholism — Ultimate Collection is a fair summary of the band's output over a period of nearly 20 years. They were never a singles band — in fact, their only Top Ten hits were the aforementioned Christmas single and a duet with the Dubliners on the traditional Irish jig "The Irish Rover" — but the Pogues nevertheless became one of the most successful traditional Irish folk bands, with their defining points consisting of Shane MacGowan's distinctive slurring vocals and working-class political lyrics. They had released hit collections previously, but both the 1991 albums The Best of the Pogues and The Essential Pogues were condensed 14-track albums, and 2001's The Very Best of the Pogues contained 21 tracks on a single CD. This double CD is a revamped version of the latter album, but also includes a bonus disc featuring a full show recorded at the Brixton Academy in 2001, featuring live versions of many of the tracks featured on disc one. As the years go by, the Christmas hit "Fairytale of New York" appears to get more and more popular, originally peaking at number two in 1987, number three in 2005, number six in 2006, and number four in 2007, as the tale of two sparring aging partners has consistently topped the U.K.'s polls of the nation's favorite Christmas records, and inclusion of this one track does The Ultimate Collection no harm at all.

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Biography

Formed: 1982 in Kings Cross, London, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

By demonstrating that the spirit of punk could live in traditional Irish folk music, the Pogues were one of the most radical bands of the mid-'80s. Led by Shane MacGowan, whose slurred, incomprehensible voice often disguised the sheer poetry of his songs, the Pogues were undeniably political -- not only were many of their songs explicitly in favor of working-class liberalism, but the wild, careening sound of their punk-injected folk was implicitly radical. While the band was clearly radical, they...
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