In 1985, simply putting out an album titled Rum, Sodomy & the Lash and produced by Elvis Costello was enough to guarantee a certain cachet with the punk set. Luckily for every spiky-haired kid who picked it up for its rich promise of degradation, the Pogues’ breakthrough album was a mind-blowing trip through time and across borders, drawing unexpected connections between Celtic folk, punk rock, and American roots music. In this book by the same sordid name, Jeffrey T. Roesgen tells the story behind the album, interwoven with a tale of his own creation, a seafaring narrative starring the band and several of their lyrics’ characters.
If this all sounds like something by and for serious fans, you’re right. The book is one of the latest in the 33 1⁄3 series, a collection of smartly dissective tomes about notable rock albums, from Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica to the Smiths’ Meat Is Murder and beyond. (See the full list at www.33third.blogspot.com.) The idea is to hitch up talented music writers with the object of their audio obsession and let them parse and probe it at length—an enterprise that, as you might guess, is as fraught with peril as being adrift at sea with the Pogues. There is the ever-present danger of wrecking on the shoals of metaphor, then flailing about in search of adjectives.
Roesgen, for his part, steers clear of such hazards and delivers a spirited novella along with vivid snippets of rowdy, romantic rock ’n’ roll history.
This review is from the March-April 2009 issue of Utne Reader.