HOW ON EARTH did the Pogues, a band whose banjo-and-accordion approach has more in common with the Dubliners than with Duran Duran, end up becoming the hippest new band in London?
Good question. True, some aspects of the band's fame are obvious enough. For one thing, the group was forced to shorten its original name after the BBC learned that "Pogue Mahone" was a Gaelic obscenity; for another, Elvis Costello, who produced the Pogues' latest album, "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash," is engaged to band member Cait O'Riordan.
Mostly, though, what the Pogues have done is reclaim the rowdy spirit of Irish rebel music in much the same way that American cow punk bands have resurrected the outlaw twang of Hank Williams. The Pogues are ragged traditionalists at best. Shane McGowan's Irish tenor is far closer to John Lydon than to Tommy Makem, and many of the fiddle and pipe parts adapt rock licks to Irish instrumentation rather than the other way around. But the topical references and smiling cynicism of their songs more than make up for what the music lacks in finesse.
Of course, finesse has never been a byword with critical favorites. Just look at Lifeboat, a quartet from Boston whose eponymous EP placed fifth in the Village Voice's nationwide rock critics' poll. Granted, the six songs here are catchy examples of intellectual power pop, but as is often the case with cult favorites, the music's quirks, as bolstered by the band's low- gloss performance, are what ultimately stand out.
THE POGUES -- "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" (Stiff Seez 58);
LIFEBOAT -- "Lifeboat" (Dolphin DLP 2007); both appearing Saturday at the 9:30 Club.