Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash might be the better album - just - but If I Should Fall From Grace With God has the songs. There are tracks on here that define not just The Pogues, but the entire genre - alongside the greatest song in the history of the entire world ("Fairytale of New York", obviously), there are songs as brilliant as "If I Should Fall From Grace With God", "Turkish Song of the Damned", "Bottle of Smoke", "Thousands Are Sailing", "Fiesta", and "Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six" - all among the high points of the decade.
There are actually so many great songs on here that it takes a while for some of them to sink in. "Thousands are Sailing" didn't register as a highlight with me until I was ten or so listens in, when suddenly the chorus hit me - 'thousands are sailing / across the Western ocean / To a land of opportunity / That most of them will never see', and later, 'thousands are sailing / again across the ocean / where the hand of opportunity / draws tickets in a lottery'. The hopes, dreams, and futility of the Irish diaspora are summed up so clearly and hauntingly on this one that I'm surprised it's not a traditional song. Shane Macgowan didn't even write it, either - it was the guitarist, Phil Chevron. That's crazy - people used to talk about George Harrison, and how he would have been the lead songwriter in any band in the world other than The Beatles; this song suggests a similar story might be true for The Pogues. And yet, this was the first of his songs to make it onto a Pogues album.
Other highlights are obvious, though. "Fairytale of New York" needs no description, other than to say every listen reminds me why I love music so much, while "Fiesta" and "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" are great, big, shambolic drunken messes and fantastic party records as a result, while "Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six" is mournful and furious in equal measure. Even after the album has become ingrained in your subconscious, these all still pack some punch.
The Pogues will always be linked to drinking, and that's fine, but there's more than enough depth and subtlety about what they do to ensure that their music sounds great in just about any circumstance. I could imagine some of these songs being played at funerals. To make an album that's so easy to enjoy, and so timeless, in a decade as brash and extreme as the '80s and in a genre as marginalized as traditional folk, is an extraordinary achievement. Then again, The Pogues were an extraordinary band.