Dropkick Murphys - 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Dropkick Murphys

11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory (2017)

Born & Bred

I grew up in New England, root for New England sports teams (although I really only care about football), am of Irish descent on both sides of my family, grew up listening to my dad’s Clancy Brothers’ records, and went to college in Boston. In many ways, I’m the Dropkick Murphys’ core audience. And yet, I can’t claim to be a huge fan. Maybe I was a little bit in my teen years, (my friend Cat is always happy to show you a picture of me front row at a Dropkick show when we were in high school together) but not anymore. You see, there are plenty of bands that do what Dropkick does: take a subgenre of punk that punk fans know about but that the average person has never heard of, dress it up with enough pop hooks and studio gloss to make it marketable, and then become a household name for it amongst people who don’t know that it’s been done before and done better. Sublime and No Doubt did it with ska-punk. AFI did it with horror punk. Dropkick did it with celtic punk. That doesn’t necessarily make the Dropkick Murphys a bad band, but there’s only so far you can go being the Blink-182 of Pogues-inspired punk rock. They’re not the best example of the genre, just the most radio friendly version of it. So because of all this, I went into 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory expecting something tired and mediocre. What I got was a little bit better than I expected.

11 Short Stories isn’t as purely celtic punk as some of their previous releases. Perhaps it was because this is their first album without bagpipe player Scruffy Wallace in 14 years. They’ve got a new bagpipe player who both plays on the album and tours with them, but they have yet to make him an official member of the band. Because of this, they put down the bagpipes for a few songs and experiment with some other styles.

When it does come to the celtic punk songs, most of them sound like the same tired shtick that Dropkick has been playing for the past 20 years. “Rebels with a Cause” and “I Had a Hat” aren’t really much to get excited over. “First Class Loser” is just a really dumb song full of obvious and easy pot shots at an unnamed “loser” that starts to feel overly mean after a while. The song ending with “Aw hell naw!” sounds wildly out of place in a celtic punk song.

There are a few celtic songs that work. Lead single, “Blood” is a pretty heartfelt song. I noticed that Apple Music called “You’ll Never Walk Alone” a cover of Gerry and the Pacemakers, and that it’s also the official anthem of Liverpool F.C. It doesn’t take much Internet research to find out that Gerry and the Pacemakers were themselves covering a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, which just tickles me because I’d love to see the reaction of soccer hooligans finding out that the official anthem of their team comes from a musical called Carousel. DKM puts in a spirited cover that pulls on the heartstrings a bit.

But the best of the celtic songs, and truly the best song on the album, is “4-11-13.” When it comes to memorials to the Boston Marathon Bombings, I’m particularly sensitive to anything I feel is more exploitative than heartfelt. For example, I will not be giving any of my money to the upcoming movie about the incident that stars convicted hate crime perpetrator, Marky Mark, because that movie looks exploitative as hell. So I was ready to be put off by Dropkick’s tribute to the fallen, “4-15-13” (named after the date of the incident), but found it to be a fitting memorial. I like that the song doesn’t immediately start talking about the bombings themselves, but starts with the refrain of “We’re all just people trying to get along.” It becomes a tribute to the diverse population of Boston. I’m especially happy that there’s a Clash reference in the song, too. Overall, it’s about as good of a song as you can make about such a tragic situation.

But what really sticks out on the album are the times when they stray away from their typical celtic style to try something a little different. “Paying My Way” is more of a country tune with a little honky-tonk piano, while the song inexplicably plays over the exact beat of “We Will Rock You.” “Kicked to the Curb” is more of a pop-punk/surf-rock song that, without much of substance in the lyrics, still becomes the most fun song on the album. “Until the Next Time” is more of a barroom sing-a-long and destined to become their new closing song for most shows.

I’m always happy when I see a band moving into new territory and experimenting with new styles. It’s not the whole album that does this, and there are still a few songs that remain stale in a style that the band has more or less run into the ground. But there’s enough experimentation with new style on this album to suggest that the Dropkick Murphys have finally reached a point where they’re willing to get more creative than they have been before, and finally demonstrate their willingness to grow as artists.