The easy shorthand may have led, in the past, to The Popes being described as the raucous Celtic rockers who backed Shane MacGowan between his stints fronting The Pogues. MacGowan has long gone, however, and New Church, their third album without him, goes further than ever in establishing the band’s own identity.
Vocalist Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McGuinness brings a more bluesy growl to proceedings without entirely forsaking the group’s Celtic roots; on an atmospheric cover of the Python Lee Jackson hit In A Broken Dream he sounds like the bastard offspring of Van Morrison and Tom Waits.
The title track is what might happen if U2 reinvented themselves as a saloon bar country band, while Alice offers up a frenzy of power chords and folk-based storytelling.
The spoken word guest spot by Howard Marks on Thrown Down Your Aces feels a little out of place, but it’s not long before we’re back to weather-beaten folk blues with an eloquent bent.