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The Popes - New Church (Album Review)

Thursday, 15 March 2012 Written by Jonathon Rimmer
The Popes - New Church (Album Review)

Once best known for being Shane MacGowan's (The Pogues) “backing band”, the Popes have quietly gone on to carve their own career with Paul “Mad Dog” McGuinness at the helm. On New Church, McGuinness' vocals sound as husky and comfortable as ever. My problem, unfortunately, is with everything else.

ImageIt's hard to quite put your finger on what made the Pogues so special, but there was an undeniable charm to every aspect of their music. Whereas their songs had a depth that accented MacGowan's frustrated and often beautiful lyrics, New Church showcases a band that sound too self-satisfied to fully engage with.

Perhaps that comparison is unfair, but too much of this record plods along without a purpose or clear destination, sailing past their best ideas in frustrating fashion. Sometimes, it is because the pieces just don't sound right. The drums, for example, are way too loud in the mix throughout, and too inconsistent for their own good. Occasionally, the band do shake the dust off their Irish feet, and the results are more fruitful. 'Alice' is a decent mandolin-led tune, if nothing else, and the fiddle in 'Love Shines' is one of the most rousing parts of the disc. Shame that they ruin it a few minutes later with a cheesy choir excerpt.

As a straight-up folk act, the Popes sound like they're in their element, but there's too many moments here that just had me crying out “Why?”. Instead of playing up their savvy, the Popes treat us to bouts of pointlessness. Jo O'Meara (the one from S Club 7) appears at one point and belts out a chorus on what otherwise is the strongest track on the album. Oh, and famous author Howard Marks randomly appears with a spoken interlude that doesn't at all fit with the music preceding or following it.

Maybe the Popes have lost a bit of their pizazz with this record, musically and thematically (there are titles here like 'What's Done is Done', 'Hanging Up My Guns' and 'Back in the Day'). Their Celtic numbers wouldn't sound out of place in a pub, and I mean that in a positive sense, but their songs are much too varied in quality to match their revered peers.

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