Publication: The Des Moines Register 
Date Published: Thursday, August 10, 1995 
By: Patrick Beach
Section: Datebook, Pg. 10

He's maybe the greatest awful singer there ever was - OK, except for Tom Waits - but when Shane MacGowan was relieved of his duties as a Pogue, it was widely assumed that his days as a frontman were over and his career as a full-time drunk had begun.

That makes the very existence of The Snake, the debut by MacGowan and his band, the Popes, a surprise. (Come to think of it, MacGowan being ALIVE is a shocker.) And, in fact, The Snake is clearly better than the last, MacGowan-less Pogues album, which was a valiant but ultimately dispiriting piece.  Still, only once does the new band recall the Pogues at their best, but it's a great moment: "The Church of the Holy Spook," which opens the disc, barrels along with intemperate recklessness, blending punk, Celtic folk and other influences as MacGowan slurs his words and listeners hunt for the lyric sheet.  He waits three whole lines before confessing, I ruined my life by drinking.  There's also a wonderful percussion hook in the tune that sounds like the cops beating down the door. Brilliant. 

But never again does MacGowan's writing approach "Spook," and for that The Snake suffers. When the tunes get less traditionally Irish, they tend to get less interesting. The one exception is "Haunted," which the Pogues did years ago and which features an ethereal vocal from Sinead O'Connor - whose voice is a comically dramatic counterpoint to MacGowan, who fumbles for notes nights like someone groping for a lightswitch in the dark.

Auspicious this debut isn't, but neither is it dreadful. It's just the first thing MacGowan ever did that left me curiously unmoved.

The Snake  Shane MacGowan and the Popes (ZTT/Warner Bros.)

Rated:   Based on a rising scale of no stars (worse than a Boston concert) to five stars (an eternal tingle)

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