After the embattled recording of the Pogues' Peace and Love, with Shane MacGowan clearly at odds with his bandmates and their musical direction while contributing little in the way of new songs, Hell's Ditch seemed at once like a step forward and a step back for the group. While Peace and Love suggested the Pogues had grown weary of the hot-rodded Celtic sounds that had been their trademark, Hell's Ditch found the band back in more familiar territory and sounding much refreshed; if there wasn't anything as manic as the high points of Rum Sodomy & the Lash or If I Should Fall from Grace with God, these sessions reveal the Pogues had found their feet and were sounding like a band again, and while a few of MacGowan's songs lead them through his fascination with Asian and Latin accents, the musicians were able to fuse them with their own trademark style rather than being subsumed by them; the Pogues rarely sounded as graceful or a comfortable as they do on Hell's Ditch. However, MacGowan's songwriting still hadn't regained the fire and acidity that made the group's first three albums so powerful, and Terry Woods and Jem Finer don't quite pick up the slack. More importantly, while Joe Strummer's production served the band well, he was seemingly too fond of MacGowan to tell him when his vocals were all but unintelligible, and many of the songs are all but sunk by Shane's sloppy, mush-mouthed, and booze-addled delivery, which is difficult to unravel even by his standards. While there are many pearly moments on Hell's Ditch that suggest the work of a happier and more unified band than on their previous albums, MacGowan's poorly focused performances are a handicap the Pogues couldn't overcome, and it seems appropriate this was the band's last studio album with their primary songwriter and frontman.