Shane MacGowan / Shane MacGowan & the Popes

The Snake

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Shane MacGowan, who made a name for himself as the bandleader of the Pogues until they got fed up with his asinine, self-destructive behavior and kicked him out of the group, returned with a new band (the Popes, get it?) and a bracing set of new songs that draw heavily on traditional Irish folk music while pinning your ears back with a raucous, full-frontal rock sound. The album opens with a bang: "Church of the Holy Spook" is either an oblique expression of twisted religious faith or an all-out assault on the Roman church; it's impossible to tell which. Its refrain is based on the chorus to "Give Me That Old-Time Religion," and it pounds into your skull like fists against a cathedral wall. When that tune segues into a headlong romp through the traditional "Nancy Whiskey," you know you're in for a wild ride. The band uses banjo, whistle, and pipes as well as electric guitars, so no matter how aggressive the sound gets, you never really lose that folky Irish flavor. The farthest MacGowan gets from his roots is on the schlocky "Haunted," a maudlin duet he performs with Sinéad O'Connor. That track and the bizarre "Mexican Funeral in Paris" are the only musical missteps on this enormously exciting album; though he still hasn't brushed his teeth, cleaned up his language, or quit drinking, MacGowan seems to be on the brink of some kind of renaissance. Here's hoping he keeps it up.

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