The Dropkick Murphys tick all the boxes on their latest full-length album.
by Joe Daley
Quincy’s Celtic punk extraordinaires, Dropkick Murphys, can’t really be blamed for sticking to a winning script. From its humble roots as a rough-around-the-edges Oi! band schlepping across the country in a dilapidated van, the Ken Casey-led troupe has become the Boston rock act of the past fifteen years. From writing “Tessie,” the theme song of the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series win, to their anthemic “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” (featured in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed), the Dropkicks’ brand of brash, Irish punk rock has helped shape pop culture’s vision of Boston.
All of that well-deserved praise aside, I am among those who think the band has fallen into a mild slump. While the group has yet to put out a bad record, they also have yet to match the quality of 2007’s The Meanest of Times. On their latest album, the newly released 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, the Dropkicks don’t disappoint — but they once again fall short of their earlier high mark.
“The Lonesome Boatman,” the album’s intro tune, is in many ways a microcosm of the album as a whole. With a driving backbeat and a chorus of shouted woahs, this track highlights what has become the band’s go-to formula. The use of wind instruments (and the title) suggests a sort of sea-shanty aesthetic that has become more standard for the band in recent years, but can probably be traced back to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”
Sounding like a deep cut from 2003’s Blackout, “Rebels With a Cause” recalls a time when the Dropkick Murphys were heavier on the punk than they were on the Celtic. Blending acoustic and electric guitar, this track comes together to form a lively barroom singalong that is the album’s proper kick-off.
Other songs on the record, in particular “Blood,” “Sandlot,” and “Paying My Way” reflect a newer, lumbering sound that’s drowning in reverb and gang vocals. While inoffensive, this slower pace doesn’t deliver the same thrills as the sprier, more nimble tracks the album offers, such as “I Had a Hat,” or “Kicked to the Curb.”
The closing song, “Until the Next Time” is the black sheep of the album. Channeling The Beatles, the Dropkicks send the listener off with a pop song that, while sounding totally out of character, is a well-executed, pleasant surprise.
Lyrically, there’s not much going on on this album. Never a band about self-serious introspection, the Dropkicks spend their time on this album singing the praises of an unspecific underdog who manages to grit it out day by day. On prior releases, the band has managed to work in an interesting character portrait or two, as on “The State of Massachusetts” and “Rude Awakenings” from The Meanest of Times. However, on 11 Short Stories the band doesn’t venture out into this kind of territory, so the ‘overcoming the odds’ theme becomes a tad tedious.
This is ironic, considering the heavy subject matter the band chose to address on this album. With the song “4-15-13,” a somber ode to those injured and lost in the Boston Marathon bombings, the band had an opportunity to come up with an moving rock hymn. While the song is nice enough, a celebration of our shared humanity, I can’t help but feel that the specifics of what happened that day are missing. That same goes for “Paying My Way.” According to Ken Casey, this is a song about the growing opiate epidemic. But once again, the band plays it safe, making no direct reference, explicit or veiled, to the drug at the heart of the problem. A social problem is treated as just another invitation to come up with yet another general underdog survival story.
When the Dropkicks stop trying to be serious, and put their hooligan senses of humor at the center of their songwriting, the music improves considerably. “First Class Loser” and “Kicked to the Curb” zestfully show off the band’s earthy wit, which has always been a major part of their appeal.
So, all in all, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory turns out to be a perfectly serviceable Dropkick Murphy album. It doesn’t necessarily impress, but there is more glory than pain in this mix.
Joe Daley is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an English major focusing on alternative literature.