Since the birth of the greatest hits album, the preparation of such a product has become a bizarre form of performance art. Do you include only hit singles or sprinkle in favorite album cuts? Do you keep things chronological or craft some sort of fancy playlist for maximum listening pleasure? How intricate do you make the packaging – do you need liner notes, song-by-song credits and all that?
The fires of these debates are further stoked with the release of The Very Best of The Pogues (Shout! Factory 826663-13738), a decent compilation for the iconic Irish band (it seems it’s the only one in print in the U.S. right now) that’s prevented from being truly great by a number of easily preventable factors.
The Very Best of The Pogues certainly doesn’t lack for audio quality. The 18 tracks herein (singles and album cuts alike) are all tastefully mastered by Bob Fisher at Pacific Multimedia, and all of them are great tunes for new Pogues fans to gnaw on. “Dirty Old Town,” “Rain Street,” “The Irish Rover” with The Dubliners, “Fairytale of New York” with Kirsty MacColl, “Tuesday Morning” (the closest thing they had to a U.S. hit) – all of these are appropriately rollicking songs that recall the best of traditional Irish music with a snarling rock edge.
But from there, things get really problematic for the disc. If you like chronological compilations, this isn’t it – and that wouldn’t be a major issue, if only there were some hint as to which songs originate from where. The lack of discographical info in the liner notes (save for a fun but slight two-and-a-half page recollection from band member Spider Stacy) meant every listen had to be punctuated by consulting the disc info on iTunes or my own news post on the disc just to figure out where these tracks figured into The Pogues’ legend.
For instance, you’d never know just from looking at the disc that perennially intoxicated frontman Shane MacGowan was ejected from the band in the early 1990s, with Stacy handling lead vocals duties and the entire band pitching in to write. The Very Best of The Pogues is only one of two compilations (the other being the U.K. The Ultimate Collection (2005)) that even uses a song from that era; it in fact uses two: “Tuesday Morning” and heartfelt closer “Love You Till the End.” There: now I have told you more about the band than this compilation does.
Look, all in all, The Very Best of The Pogues is not a terrible set. It’s been a blast to listen to, and it’s certainly a welcome mat into the greater world of MacGowan and his gleeful band of musical mavericks. But a little bit more elbow grease on the overall presentation could have turned this set from a probable introduction to a more confident one.