The Men They Couldn't Hang,
The Cherry Red Jukebox
(Twah, 2003)

The Pogues weren't the only band to marry the punk ethic to Celtic musical traditions back in the 1980s. The Men They Couldn't Hang didn't attain the kind of success that Shane MacGowan & Co. managed, but that may have had as much to do with the way MacGowan's drunken antics served as a publicity springboard as it did with the quality of the music each band produced. Certainly TMTCH's 1988 album Waiting For Bonaparte is one I play with greater frequency a decade and a half after its release than Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. But will the same be true of TMTCH's latest recording, The Cherry Red Jukebox?

After a six-year recording hiatus, the band is back in record stores with an often energetic but rather uneven collection of 11 new tracks. The core of the band remains intact, with guitarists Stefan Cush and Philip Odgers splitting the vocal work while guitarist Paul Simmonds, with help from his bandmates, writes every track.

Songs such as the album opener "The Sunrise" left me feeling that this band must be great live, in a club setting, beer in hand. But on CD, in my living room, the track struck me as a bit too raw. I felt it would have benefited from a touch more studio production a la Steve Lillywhite's work on U2's War album. Surprisingly, given the three-guitar attack TMTCH has at the ready, I found many of the arrangements on this album didn't really play to this strength. Frequently, one of the guitarists ended up playing an acoustic rhythm part buried way back in the mix.

"The Hill" stands out from this trend as a nicely layered track with both electric and acoustic rhythm tracks, lead guitar and a rollicking accordion courtesy of Clive "Slim" Pain. The track on which the album really seems to hit a confident stride is "Highwater," where the marriage of guitars and raging harmonica, augmented by a subdued organ part, perfectly set off the tremendously energetic vocals. The song reminded me of the best work of Australia's Hunters & Collectors. I also very much enjoyed the somewhat kitschy "I Loved the Summer of Hate," another track that must be killer live.

The image of The Cherry Red Jukebox is conjured up in the slightly goofy track "Singing Elvis," in which the band recall the joys of listening to Phil Specter's productions, classic Motown and, of course, Elvis. But the track also serves to make the band seem even older than their other glance into the past, the aforementioned "I Loved the Summer of Hate."

Then there are the slower songs, all very nice, but I can't help thinking of Roger Whittaker's "Durham Town" every time "Rivertown" and "The Red Rocks of Spain" reach their chorus hooks.

Overall, The Cherry Red Jukebox is a good but not exceptional album that proves the Men They Couldn't Hang still have some life in them. Let's hope they don't stay away from the recording studio for another six years before providing us with an album that captures them at their very best.

One final side note -- in reading through the album credits I was surprised and pleased to see that Bobby Valentino was among the session players contributing to several tracks on this album. Valentino was a member of the Fabulous Poodles and his quirky fiddle playing is a perfect fit on "Silver Gun."

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 25 October 2003

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