So you say you’re thinking of getting drunk, but just don’t have brain cells to spare? Not to worry. There’s a new Pogues record to leave you feeling like you’ve spent the night carousing, yet can still drive yourself home. Hell’s Ditch uses the group’s reliable format—traditional Irish music run through the gin mill a few too many times—but the same old Pogues is better than none.
Lead singer Shane MacGowan still enunciates with all the clarity of Otis, the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show. The chorus on “The Ghost of a Smile” sounds more like “gust in the sow” and “Summer in Siam” comes across as “slummin’ Sam.” MacGowan’s slurring might not help him sing Cole Porter, but this raggedy approach suits music to crawl pubs by.
The rest of the Pogues also carry on like a wedding band at 4 A.M.—sloppy, but spirited. Whether it’s the hyperjig pace set by accordion, whistle or banjo on “The Sunnyside of the Street” or the surprisingly international “The Wake of the Medusa.” which sounds like “Hava Nagila Does Dublin,” the music stumbles along amiably. It’s not surprising the record was produced by ex-Clashmeister Joe Strummer, never one to obsess over musical precision.
There are sober moments, such as the Top 40-friendly “House of the Gods” and a gentle “Five Green Queens and Jean.” While Hell’s Ditch may not break new ground, the Pogues are as reliable as your favorite brand of brew. Tastes great. Not at all filling. Get the pretzels. (Island)