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As a swift, most-bases-covered overview of the songs of Shane McGowan - THE greatest songwriter of the past thirty years - and the work of The Pogues as a whole, The Ultimate Collection does a reasonably fair job. The hits are (mostly) all here, as are a smattering of outstanding album tracks, a couple of excellent E.P numbers and at least one "Why In God's Name Is THIS Here?" moment.
Any record housing the likes of Fairytale Of New York, Rainy Night In Soho, A Pair Of Brown Eyes and The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn is obviously beyond criticism from a musical perspective. As a Collection of the recordings of The Pogues, however, it falls some way short of Ultimate - that the fairly mediocre likes of I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day and London Girl are included at the expense of genuinely staggering compositions such as The Old Main Drag, Transmetropolitan or Lullaby Of London is proof enough of that.
What it does offer is yet another chance to dispel the myth of the Pogues as an "Irish band". Even if one puts aside the fact that more than two-thirds of the band are English, a cursory listen to any album from If I Should Fall From Grace With God onwards reveals how intoxicatingly cosmopolitan an outfit they were (and, one hopes, will be again. News continues to flitter about concerning a comeback album following the wildly successful reunion tours of the past few years). Herein, one finds an array of influences clamouring for space - Irish folk music, certainly, but a multitude of middle eastern, American, Latin and English sounds also abound. Hell's Ditch, Summer In Siam, Sunnyside Of The Street, Fiesta - none of these sound for a second like the work of an Irish folk band.
The question is, given how cheaply one can pick up those first three astounding albums (Red Roses For Me, Rum Sodomy & The Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God...), is there any justification whatsoever for opting for this instead? The answer, predictably, is no.
What it does have to entice the fans is a second CD comprised entirely of recordings made at a reunion show at Brixton Academy in 2001. The concert features many of the classics omitted from the main event, but the versions here - great as they are - are no match for the haunting, devastating original recordings.
No-one should be without 80% of the tracks that make up The Ultimate Collection. No-one, though, should opt for this over the parent albums.