Reviews

Shane, go back
The Snake
Shane MacGowan and The Popes
Warner Bros. Records
Pogues, Popes--what's a few letters among friends?

MacGowan picks up where he left off when he parted company with his obscurely famous former band, quenching his bottomless thirst at the pub with "Nancy Whiskey" and slurring words and music into an indecipherable punk-folk polyglot. The transitions are more jarring in some places, the old musicians traded in for new ones (except for Spider Stacy and Jem Finer, who make appearances), the words filled with less poetry and more regret than before. But MacGowan remains one of rock and roll's most enduring cult heroes, because he is still wise and weary beyond his 37 years, still as bitter and contradictory and desperate and romantic as ever, and he is still fixated with death and redemption and the knowledge that one never accompanies the other.

When listened to by the completest, The Snake is both a summation of his career spent in the Pogues and an exorcism (though never an apology). Shane, casting himself as musician-cum-martyr, now finds his solace in "The Church of the Holy Spook" and at the bottom of the shot glass, gulping his whiskey and chasing it down with holy water. He claims to have "ruined my life by drinking," then gleefully orders "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten bottles of gin" to forget the woman on whom he wasted so many years and so much money.

At the album's outset, he lashes out at rock and roll by comparing himself to Christ on the cross ("Rock and roll, you crucified me/Left me all alone"), then six songs later immerses himself in a psychobilly beat. He treats his women badly ("No sadist, I found delight in making my love cry"), but is a passionate romantic at his puny little heart, trading unabashed couplets with Sinead O'Connor on one of the weakest, most typical pop-rock songs MacGowan has ever had the bad sense to record. ("You were so cool you could have put out Vietnam," he tells Sinead by way of a lover's compliment.)

MacGowan has always had an author's aspirations even as he mined traditional Gaelic folk and British punk, seeing himself through bleary eyes as the foul-mouthed James Joyce on a nine-day hangover. But the song about the Mexican funeral in Paris aside, he isn't even James Osterberg (Iggy Pop to you). Compare: Iggy wanted to be your dog; Shane wants to be your handbag. The jig is up.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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