“I ruined my life with drinking, bad wives, taking pills and cursing / Rock and roll you crucified me, left me all alone / I never should have turned my back on the old folks back home.” Those lines, howled with sarcastic, fuck-all glee by Shane MacGowan, are the spiritual center of his first solo record, The Snake. Spiritual? Indeed: the song itself is called “The Church of the Holy Spook”; it’s a suitable introduction for this record, a devotional song cycle about the fermented grain that’s the primary thing MacGowan cares about. Having been eased out of the Pogues for excessive drinking–no little achievement–MacGowan was given up as lost in many quarters; but he’s bounced back with a new band, the Popes, and an album that, song for song, matches the best of any other he’s made. Built on a barrage of pounding guitars, flavored with an assault of whistles, banjos, harps, and pipes, and topped with his impossibly shot voice, The Snake displays his otherworldly songwriting skills and intensity of performance, and oozes with its creator’s humanity and sass, and, most pungently, a black streak that can chronicle the tragedy of a hanged patriot and a missed roll in the hay with equal venom. All of this obscures but can’t quite hide the unhappy route MacGowan seems to be taking; any hope that he’s cleaned up his act was gainsaid by his ferocious, besotted performance with his new band at Metro last summer. Anyone with a penchant for great rock ‘n’ roll and the stomach to watch a man in the process of drinking himself to death shouldn’t miss his return. Sunday, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andy Collin.