Peace and Love (1989, Island) is, in some ways, a peculiar component of the Pogues’ cannon, receiving bemused reviews in Britain, although the response was generally better in the United States. Shane MacGowan would later give it one thumb up: “half of it’s all right, the half I wrote!”
While the band were generally pleased with the results of the demo sessions, by the time they got into the studio to record it properly, personal problems had exacerbated and MacGowan’s acid and alcohol intake had reached alarming levels. His voice was so weak, producer Steve Lillywhite had to use his technical magic to try to hide its flaws, something that may not have been successful as Night Train To Lorca might testify. The theme slanted toward London rather than their spiritual homeland Ireland, a move that did not endear to everyone.
Regardless of all this, the album is among my personal Pogues favourites. It’s an album I can play over and over and not become tired of. Peace and Love has a timeless quality; it beguiles and bewitches. It can also be infuriating, but this doesn’t detract from its depth.
Despite MacGowan’s self-appraisal of his own lyrics, one of two standouts was penned by veteran folkie Terry Woods. Gartloney Rats adjoins The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn for its numerous references to acohol, with the tale of a village band that would “never get drunk but stay sober.” It clocks in at 2:32 but feels much longer given its pace and endless lyrics that Woods rattles off sharply.
Woods and Ron Kavana’s Young Ned of The Hill is in the same vein, the speedy winger of the piece, and one with some bite, cursing Oliver Cromwell who “raped our Mother Land” but finding that, in the likes of “gallant men” like Ned Hill, Ireland will always have an iron will.
Gartloney Rats is matched by MacGowan’s Down All The Days, a song about Christy Brown, “a clown around town”, who types with his toes and the song begins with the clatter of a typewriter. This track seems to alienates fans with some lamenting its obviousness, contrary to the oft-cryptic nature of MacGowan’s words. The final verse includes the lines “I’ve never been asked, and I never replied, If I supported the Glasgow Rangers.”, in reference to the black and white nature of the green and the blue of Scotland’s largest city’s twin towers of football.
Boat Train returns to binge drinking as MacGowan’s character drinks so much he pukes up on the gangway and needs help on to the boat, before indulging in songs and poker games as he somehow makes his way to London from across the water.
As with If I Should Fall From Grace With God, released the year previous, the musical influences hop from one area to another, with the opening instrumental Gridlock easing out of jazz central; Cotton Fields has a suitably calypso/ Louisiana feel; USA – again set in the southern States – has a taste of banjo but neither of the latter tracks are what you would consider indigenous music as the Pogues very much put their stamp all over.
And then there’s the tale of lost love in the magnificent Lorelei, written by Philip Chevron with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals and the mournful Misty Morning, Albert Bridge – both these songs among the best the band ever did.
Given the discord that clouded over The Pogues in 1989 it’s remarkable that Peace And Love is as good as it is; but perhaps this bedlam was what the band thrived on.
It was the last hurrah: 1990’s Hell’s Ditch was better than the critics would have us believe, but even then it couldn’t touch any of the four previous albums. And that was effectively it, MacGowan was too fucked up to carry on and the band plodded on, but really it was all over.
One curiousity peaks out from the cover of a brylcreamed Scottish boxer, who never made it out of the bottom of the support card, and admire how he managed to have Peace written on his fingers of his right hand.