Many bands have vied for the title of unofficial bar band of St. Patrick's Day. Nearly every major city with a significant Irish population claims allegiance to a local band, each insisting that its band's version of "Rocky Road to Dublin" is far superior to any other version. As these debates unfold, one band continues to play only a handful of shows each year. Twenty-five years into its career, The Pogues are, of course, the official band of St. Patrick's Day.
Over the last decade, several bands have revitalized the Irish sound. However, they are only rekindling the fire originally lit by The Pogues, who first brought the Irish sound and instrument set to popular music. These styles are on display in the unheralded box set quietly released last June, "Just Look Them Straight in the Eye And Say
The Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly claim The Pogues as a primary influence for their Irish-punk sound. But in truth, The Pogues have transcended that genre for years. Yes, the breakneck tempos on some of their more famous songs encourage this labelingas does Shane MacGowan, their self-destructive lead singerhowever their sound has always reached beyond any one genre. "Just Look Them in the Eye" goes to great lengths to demonstrate their vital role in redefining and expanding both punk and traditional Irish sounds by this genre-elusiveness.
In the 110 songs on "Just Look Them in the Eye Ŕ several different styles appear: Middle Eastern, Spanish, Afro-Cuban, country, opera and '80s synth. Although The Pogues rarely stray beyond the traditional Irish instrument setbanjo, Irish flute and accordionthey always bend the sound of their tools to suit their sound. They may dip into the Spanish sound, but make no mistake: it's Irish-Spanish, not vice-versa.
"Just Look Them in the Eye
" should please both hardcore Pogues fan and the Johnny-come-latelys. They have alternate takes of all their famous songs, including three different takes of "Fairytale of New York" which show how the song developed from a minimal piano duet to the sprawling orchestral single release. The set collects their work from B-Sides, soundtracks and radio performances. Also included are concert recordings spanning from early in their career, when MacGowan still had his bearings, to the end when his situation became so untenable that Joe Strummer of The Clash had to replace him. The Irish spin they put on "I Fought the Law" is something that every Clash and Pogue fan alike needs to hear.
Although The Pogues no longer record new songs, St. Patrick's Day will ensure that their classic recordings will not be forgotten. Look in any pub serving green beer on March 17, and "The Sickbed of Cuchulainn" will be playing in the background. "Just Look Them Straight in the Eye and Say
Pogue Mahone!" will not only provide you with six hours of great music, it will ensure that no one ever questions your Irish sympathies on St. Paddy's ever again.