To be a punk band at this level of popularity is to wear a fairly big target. While the Dropkick Murphys' detractors are inevitable, they seem to be some of the most simultaneously vocal and hopelessly irrational around. The Murphys, tough working class exterior aside, have always seemed conscious of this. Looking back on their catalogue, it really does seem at times that they've made efforts to accommodate their dissenters and "fix what's broken." Whether this is rooted in genuine concern for the fans or typical artistic self-consciousness is up for debate, but with The Warrior's Code, the Murphys sound, for the first time in years, like they're creating for themselves.
It makes every bit of sense that after the celebrated Do Or Die, some purists went on the attack. The departure of a lead vocalist isn't the easiest pill to swallow, especially when the singer is so damn likable. However, I'll argue that every mistake the Murphys made since has been overblown by fans still hung up on that change. In the four records that followed, there was really never a cataclysmic lapse in judgement (to be hip, that "shark-jumping moment"), but to read the complaints of once-devoted listeners, it sure as hell seems like there was.
So are you tired of it yet? Maybe it's time we recognise that the Dropkick Murphys' longevity, fan-base and level of success all exist because they're quite a good band.
The Warrior's Code is the best recording the Dropkick Murphys have released since their debut. Finally, they sound like they have nothing to prove. The cloud of past glories that hung over their past work is no longer a factor. The Gang's All Here was, of course, written off by a good segment of the band's fanbase. It was the first album after the big change and the shock alone overpowers its particular strengths and weaknesses. Sing Loud, Sing Proud suffered from putting too much emphasis on the Celtic elements (having Shane MacGowan around didn't help). Blackout was the reaction record, scaling back the cultural aspects and turning up the guitars, but it lacked character. All these albums had their moments, but you couldn't get past the feeling that the Dropkick Murphys didn't feel entirely comfortable in their own skin.
That's why The Warrior's Code is such a success. Here is the first time that the Dropkick Murphys sound completely natural. There's nothing shoehorned. Neither side of the band's personality is dominant (and in fact, they're not even in conflict). This time out the Murphys are trying to please nobody but themselves, and the result is the most charming and smart record since Do Or Die.
"Sunshine Highway" is an achievement; Its chorus is the best pop melody the band has ever crafted. I know they covered "Fortunate Son" once, but if they keep writing punchy roots rock songs of this calibre, the Murphys may yet assume the role of some sort of modern day Creedence. "Citizen C.I.A." thrashes by like a good bit of 80's hardcore. Lyrically, it puts to bed any questions about the band's reaction to current U.S. foreign policy. It's paired up with a cover of Eric Bogle's "The Green Fields Of France," a war song of another type. Al Barr's sentimental turn in the ballad is wonderful and a side of him we don't often hear. "I'm Shipping Up To Boston," another lyrical find from the Guthrie archives, appears again here with the screws tightened. The booming percussion and over-the-top delivery just heightens the absurdist words. "Wicked Sensitive Crew" shouldn't be ignored because it's light-hearted. Despite its bewildering fixation with the Darkness' meat-suit wearing frontman, it addresses many lingering criticisms about the band. "Crew" sticks its tongue out at the usual misconceptions, proving the Murphys are aware of their detractors and mature enough to have some fun with them and move on.
Overall, The Warrior's Code gets the mix right. This is a dynamic record that frequently changes gears between faster punk and hardcore tracks and more subtle renditions of traditional material. While they've not departed from their established style, it seems that the Murphys' songwriting is in perfect sync with their ambition.
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