Friday, September 08, 2006

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: FLOGGING THROUGHT THE FOG

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 8, 2006



One of the most glorious blasts of music from the 1980s was The Pogues. I’m talking, of course, of the Shane McGowan era. After the periodontal poster boy singer left, The Pogues were just another folk-rock band. But with McGowan full throttle with an Old Bushmills bottle, The Pogues were an unholy union of The Clash and The Clancy Brothers, ridden by voodoo gods and dancing obscene jigs at the very gates of hell.

Although the Pogues faded away — McGowan pursuing a half-ass solo career, releasing a few albums in the last dozen years or so —their wild, drunken spirit lives on in at least a couple of American bands.


There’s the Dropkick Murphys from Boston, a punk band with bagpipes and mandolin.
And then there’s the Murphys’ natural opponent in your ultimate imaginary Celt-rock battle of the bands, Flogging Molly, a Los Angeles-based band (with a Dublin-born singer) that has just released a DVD/CD set called Whiskey on a Sunday.

Both of these groups have the basic fire of The Pogues and have the basic crazy Irish punk-trad sound down. Neither, though, has quite captured McGowan’s possessed poetic aura.

But what amazes me is that while the Dropkicks have acknowledged, tacitly at least, their debt to The Pogues — they recorded the appropriately titled song “Wild Rover,” with McGowan a few years ago — Flogging Molly just did a feature-length documentary, the aforementioned DVD, without once mentioning The Pogues.

It’s especially ironic because of two songs included on the Whiskey CD. “The Wanderlust” has a melody similar to “The Sick Bed of Cuchulain,” while the Mideastern-sounding “Another Bag of Bricks” will remind Pogue fans of “Turkish Song of the Damned.”

So it rings pretty hollow when Flogging Molly frontman Dave King boldly declares at the end of the DVD, “As humble of a band as we are, in the sense of our heritage and where we come from … I would not be sitting here if I didn’t think we were the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.”

Even when The Rolling Stones really were the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, you rarely heard or read an interview with Mick Jagger or Keith Richards where they didn’t praise their forebears, like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, etc.

But with this verbal flogging out of the way, there’s a lot to like about the music found on Whiskey on a Sunday, which I recently bought on impulse after hearing a few songs being played at a Denver record store. It’s basically my introduction to Flogging Molly.

The CD has 10 songs, some but not all featured in the documentary. There are some acoustic — but not necessarily mellow — versions of Flogging favorites like “Drunken Lullabies” and “Tomorrow Comes a Day Too Soon.”

And even better are the live tracks, “The Likes of You Again” and the anthemic “What’s Left of the Flag.”

As far as the DVD goes, this film by Jim Dziura is basically a promo piece that will best be enjoyed by established Flogging Molly fans.

All seven Floggers have their own little segments in which they tell their life stories and bandmates give kiss-up testimonials (“Dennis is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met in my life.”). Admirably democratic, I guess. Trouble is, most of them haven’t had lives that are all that interesting.

Like most rock-doc projects, my main criticism is that there should have been less yack and more music. The live sequences are, for the most part, thrilling. But then a perfectly good performance is interrupted by some band member whining about how tough touring life is or some inarticulate fan talking about how Flogging Molly rules. (Then again, there’s a pretty cool little scene where a band member is berating a fan for showing his genitals to a bandmate’s wife.)

Even if it isn’t the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, and even if it doesn’t pay proper tribute to St. Shane, Flogging Molly upholds and defends the marriage of punk rock and traditional Irish music. Till death do it part.

Also recommended:

* The Twenty-Seven Points by The Fall. Twenty-five years ago, when I interviewed a young British singer I’d never heard of from a young British band I’d never heard of over beers at Evangelo’s, I never figured that I’d still be writing about them six years into the 21st century.
The singer was Mark E. Smith, and the band was The Fall. The Gold Bar, the venue where the band played, is long gone. But Smith is still a Fall guy, cranking out riff-driven-guitar mutant garage rock overlaid with Smith’s hypnotic if not always decipherable half-spoken, half-sung lyrics that hint of a dark mythos that lies somewhere between William Blake and H.P. Lovecraft.

In recent years, Smith seems to be slowing down, releasing mainly archival stuff (though last October, The Fall had a fun little new album called Heads Roll, which, somehow in this era of terrorist beheadings, wasn’t a huge pop hit.)

The recently rereleased The Twenty-Seven Points is, believe it or not, a double live album (Holy Peter Frampton, Batman!) Well, mostly live. There are a couple of studio tracks here: “Cloud of Black,” with a percolating electronic-blip bleepy beat, and the lengthy, slow-burning “Noel’s Chemical Effluence.”

But most of it was recorded in various cities in 1995, spliced together like a collage with all of its varying audio qualities.

There are several tunes — “Lady Bird (“Green Grass”), “Middle Class Revolt” — from the mid-’90s. There are incomprehensible spoken-word segments, including some dumb jokes. There’s one of my favorite Fall tunes, “Big New Prinz,” in which Smith shouts repeatedly, “Check the record check the record ... He is nuts!”

He is. But I’d still buy him a beer at Evangelo’s.

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