Boston's Celtic punk/hardcore outfit come back in full force with their seventh studio album, Going Out in Style.
It's easy to dismiss Dropkick Murphys as just background music for swigging pints of green beer at that St. Patrick's Day party—because unfortunately (at least in my experience), they've been labeled as such by passive listeners who only really know them by the abovementioned song. But long-time fans can recognize them as one of the few bands out there who echo the working-class pride that kindled punk music in the first place.
For long-time fans of the band, their latest effort is more of the familiar Celtic-tinged punk/hardcore music you've grown to love—which may or may not be a bad thing. For me at least, it's Dropkick Murphys doing what they do best.
“Hang 'Em High” opens the album on an energetic start. A soft drumbeat builds up into a barrage of vocals complemented by bagpipes, banjo, mandolin and whistle. This track shows off one of the album's biggest attractions—the sheer variety of instruments. The raucous guitar work and gang vocals are complemented nicely by the other instruments: accordion, banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, whistles and bagpipes all make a presence at some point or another (or all at the same time). Producer Ted Hutt (the Gaslight Anthem, Fake Problems) does a slick job of making each instrument stand out without being convoluted. The momentum continues with the title track, “Going Out in Style”, which features more guest vocals that you can count (including Fat Mike from NOFX).
One interesting thing about this album is that it's somewhat conceptual. The liner notes explain that local Boston hero Cornelius Larken's life inspired the songs on the album. And some of the tracks give glimpses into moments of his life. “The Hardest Mile” describes his immigrant experience heading for a life in the land of the free/sending every penny home to the family, and features a shredding accordion solo (I guess that term crosses over, right?). The story continues in the ballad “Cruel”, telling the challenges of making a living in a new land. By the end, however, I couldn't help but feel like there should have been more songs about this Cornelius fellow, as the four or five tracks that relate his story only offer small windows into his tale.
Compared to prior releases like 2003's Blackout and 2005's The Warrior's Code, there's a greater number of slow songs, making it more of an extension of 2007's The Meanest of Times. Love ballad “1953” has quickly become one of my favorite Murphys songs of all time. The bagpipe complements the slow strum of the guitar perfectly, telling about Cornelius' first encounter with his future wife.
One complaint I have with this album is that some of the lyrics seem trite and uninspired—like in “Memorial Day”, when Al Barr sings, "Come join the fight / so we can change the way we're living. / What's left inside? / If you believe, / believe you'll never give in." Or in “Take 'Em Down”, when he sings, ""When the boss comes calling he'll put us down. / When the boss comes calling you gotta stand your ground. / When the boss comes calling don't believe their lies." The songs follow the DKM working-class plight about sticking it to the man and union empowerment and all, but are too literal and straightforward compared to previous songs that dealt with the same theme (i.e. “Which Side Are You On?"). I know they can do better.
This album is a step forward from The Meanest of Times, which suffered from an inconsistent song order where the first half was rocking and the second dragged the album down. But here punk rock barn-burners keep the energy high while the slower, folksy-felt songs give you time to catch your breath. For long-time fans, you'll appreciate this for everything that makes the Dropkick Murphys great. Gang vocals? Check. Bagpipe? Check. Jig about partying and drinking whiskey? Check. They're not breaking any new ground here, but deliver more of the Celtic punk sound you've grown to love. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that The Boss himself makes an appearance on “Peg O' My Heart” to sing a few bars.