The Tossers, Agony

The Tossers, Agony

Okay, so I know damn well The Pogues didn’t invent Irish folk, but they sure as hell dragged it kicking and screaming into the 20th century. Because of that, I find that I have a very hard time not holding up any band that plays Celtic-style folk mixed with rock to Shane MacGowan’s, er, yardstick.

Obviously, this can be a bad, bad thing — most bands don’t have the talent MacGowan, Finer, Stacy, and co. possessed in one measly pinkie. So when I realize that Agony, the latest from Chicago Southsiders the Tossers, falls in the other camp, I can feel the smile start to spread across my face. Because yep, the Tossers are good. Damn good, in fact, like Second Coming of the Pogues good. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the band’s past stuff, and while it’s always been entertaining, Agony sees the Tossers really coming into their own, despite my (and probably every other music writer on the planet’s) comparisons to the band’s most direct inspiration.

All of the hallmarks are there, of course, from Aaron Duggins’ tin whistle to the drunken gang vocals to the foreboding mandolin to Bones’ propulsive drums, and it all works. The best part of the album, though, is the dark undercurrent that runs through the whole thing. The band’ll throw out what sounds like a happy-go-lucky, rollicking drinking song like opener “Never Enough,” the rambling “Did It All For You,” or the eminently catchy “Siobhan,” all wild, whiskey-fueled stompers, but when you listen to/read the lyrics, the story beneath turns out to be far more bleak. “Never Enough,” for one, is the tale of a nonstop party thrown to keep the demons at bay and constant in need of refueling (hence the title); “Did It All For You” is the sad tale of an old fighter with no more fights to win but who can’t cope with a world at peace.

One of the highlights of the whole crazed mess is “Pub and Culture,” which sounds sloshed and scattered, like a drunk already well into his pints confessing his sins. When you check the lyrics, though, the song’s actually a harsh picture of the real face of alcoholism, with the singer/narrator offhandedly mentioning that “A man’s in critical condition because I had to drive” and clinically discussing the fact that his natural dopamine levels are too low. “Siobhan” does something similar, but this time from the outside, watching forlornly as a daughter(?) rolls from bar to bar, twisting men around her finger and downing booze the whole way.

I don’t know if the band really intended it that way, but the album’s title sure seems apt at points. Behind the cheery, beery exterior, there’s a hell of a lot of pain. In the best Irish tradition, what you get with Agony is a set of brilliantly-told, crushingly depressing stories, put to music that (for the most part) sounds carefree and reckless and half sauced. You’ve got songs of love gone wrong, scathing indictments of the actors in the brutal tit-for-tat “war” in Northern Ireland, tales of parents who’ve given up on their wild kids, stories of marital strife, well-drawn images of men with anger management problems, and enough alcoholic confessions to fill a decent-sized AA meeting. And that’s just the happy-sounding stuff — there’s also the chilling, spooky, mandolin-and-vocals “Shade,” which sees the ghost of a man’s conscience rising up like a revenant to warn him of his impending doom.

The closest analogue I can come up with, really — and yes, I’m going back to the big “P” yet again — is the classic Rum Sodomy & the Lash, with its bleak songs of war, death, and disrepair. Hell, the dark, swirling instrumental “The Sheep in the Boots” even reminds me of “Wild Cats of Kilkenny,” although that’s admittedly mostly because of the background howling.

It’s weird, though; frontman/singer/lyricist T. Duggins’ words are far, far more convoluted and deep (and I mean that in an unironic way, honest) than you’d guess from the music. I’d swear there’re a couple of entire Dr. Phil episodes buried in “Not Alone,” just to pick one track at random. Now, I like to think I’m a fairly good-hearted guy, but man, if this is what it sounds like when T. Duggins and his crew work through their issues, I hope to heaven that they keep struggling with their problems for a good long time to come.

(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine St., Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; The Tossers -- http://www.myspace.com/thetossers)
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Review by . Review posted Sunday, June 10th, 2007. Filed under Reviews.

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One Response to “The Tossers, Agony

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 3: The Tossers + The Dead Rabbits + Haute Wheels + Cancerslug + Days N’ Daze + Handguns + A Loss for Words + More on October 13th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    […] of a closer tie to their folk roots and a seriously smart lyrical sense; I dearly love 2007′s Agony, in particular, but this year’s The Emerald City is no slouch, […]

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