Celtic-Punk outfit the Dropkick Murphys welcomed the New Year in by releasing the ninth studio album of their impressive twenty-year career. The Murphys are cherished for their whiskey-laden, blue-collar punk-rock. These traits have been the signature ingredients to their records over the years, which have arguably helped them remain so popular with their fans. As the years have gone by, it is fair to say that the furious ‘pace’ that the band once had, has slowly dwindled. The Murphys last release, Signed and Sealed in Blood (2013) paid testament to this, featuring numerous slow-paced ‘last drinks at the bar’ crooning anthems. However, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory largely demonstrates the bands potential to breathe fresh life into their sound.
Opening the record is ‘The Lonesome Boatman’, which was instantly reminiscent of the first track on the band’s debut release in 1998, ‘Cadence to Arms’. The track is solely instrumental, minus the thundering of a chorus of ‘whoahs’. ‘The Lonesome Boatman’ is the band’s battle-cry which optimistically suggests that the album is going to be energetic and full of punch. The record swiftly moves into ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, which is both a catchy and up-tempo start to the album. Lyrically, the song appears to highlight generational differences between the ‘kids’ of today, and those of an older generation, with the chorus exclaiming ‘Hey kid! You’ve got heart’. On a similar theme of defiance, Blood stays true to the quintessential sound of the Dropkick Murphys, although having an opening hook that sounds scarily similar to Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.
It is notable that the record features quite a few Springsteen-esque sing-a-longs- which are certainly interesting additions. It is these songs especially which suggest that the band are not just capable of Irish bar-room brawler anthems, but also more heartfelt and sentimental examples of song-writing. For instance, Paying My Way is testament to this side of the band, with lyrics that suggest the rewards from a life of toil and hard-work pay off massively in the long-run. Sandlot is a song that follows a similar trend on the record. This song stands out massively as a real highlight, with reference to the band’s nostalgic heyday. ‘We didn’t know about girls or bars’ and reference to ‘playing stickball’, gives a real edge to the album- you can almost visualise photographs of the band in their youth as the lyrics unwind. Although nostalgic in tone, it’s clear that the band are avid and intricate storytellers…and are going nowhere anytime soon.
It is the madness and insanity of I Had a Hat, which is the musical standout of the album. This is the Murphys ‘Irish Rover’ of the album- it is ballsy, it is chaotic and it will most definitely appear on St. Patrick’s Day playlists globally. I Had a Hat is quite simply one of those songs you cannot get out of your head easily. 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory demonstrates that the Dropkick Murphys still have a wicked sense of humour. The comedic value of First Class Loser, is a strong addition to the album- quite simply, the lyrics are hilarious and are fundamentally about that ‘friend’ everybody has, who simply is an astronomical pain in the ass. Musically, First Class Loser is arguably the first real traditionally ‘Celtic’ track on the record, lending itself to the sound of The Pogues or The Dubliners very closely at times.
If ‘11’ Short Stories of Pain & Glory was actually ‘eight’ stories, this album would be absolutely phenomenal. It goes without saying that the final three songs the listener is greeted with really do ruin the overall feel and excitement of the record. 4-15-13 is in theory a beautiful tribute to the Boston Bombings in 2013, but it could have been released as a stand-alone single. The cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone, is totally unnecessary and unless you are a die-hard Liverpool fan you will probably turn it off. The Dropkick Murphys have an arsenal of brilliant cover songs, but unfortunately You’ll Never Walk Alone doesn’t cut it. Finally comes Until the Next Time, which sounds like a terrible rip-off of a Madness song, mixed with Vera Lynn’s war-time We’ll Meet Again- you may want to just forget this song made it onto the album.
The Dropkick Murphys have yet again shown their capabilities of being a solid punk-rock outfit, with Celtic heart and soul…. but need to avoid the woes of filling record space moonlighting as a dad-rock crooner band.
Review by: Kate Harrison