Monday, September 30, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1303: The Dropkick Murphys

Earlier this month I watched a solid four-part documentary on punk rock. One of the lessons I took from it was that punk is an attitude as much as a style of music, and that denying someone the title simply because it isn’t ‘pure’ enough is just uncool.

Whatever you want to call this next band, I like their music, and that’s what matters.

Disc 1303 is… The Meanest of Times
Artist: Dropkick Murphys

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover? A family portrait of some kids you wouldn’t want lurking around your silverware or left alone in a room with your cat.

How I Came to Know It: I’ve been a fan of the Dropkick Murphys since my friend Andrew introduced me to them. This album was just me checking out their latest album.

How It Stacks Up:  The Dropkick Murphys have made nine studio LPs, and I have seven of them. Yeah, I’m a fan. Despite that fandom, one of those albums has to finish last, and “the Meanest of Times” is it. If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person you might say it ranks higher than the two records I passed on.

Ratings: 3 stars

If “The Meanest of Times” had been the first Dropkick Murphys album I’d ever heard, I would probably be raving right now at the brilliance of it all. This is because when you first year the Murphys infectious, aggressive blend of Celtic folk music and punk rock it is something of a musical revelation. This being the sixth Dropkick Murphys album I’d ever heard, my reaction was more akin to “Oh, so more of this? I like this!

There is a lot to like, and like hard rockers ACDC drop killer rhythm guitar licks and keep 4/4 time, the Murphys know what makes their sound great and how to stay in their lane. You won’t encounter them exploring a lot of new sound on “The Meanest of Times” but you’ll still have a rollicking good time, and even a slam-dance or two if you’re in the right company.

I did not have a slam-dance, as I listened to this walking around town and riding the bus. Coming off of a soft-spoken contemporary folk album, I didn’t cotton on to the Murphys signature mix of rock guitar, raucous unison singing and the blast of bagpipes at first. However, it didn’t take long, and by the end of my first run through I was ready to sing along, or yell about something important, or maybe just yell for the sake of it.

For a band as big and boisterous as they are - the Murphys have seven members and whatever they play, they play it loud – the sound is never muddy. These guys bring the energy of punk rock, but they bring the musicianship of Celtic folk. Lead singer Al Barr is also a big part of what makes this band rock. He has a rough rasp and earnest delivery that makes you feel like every song is being played at a live show.

If you like your punk to sound like it is being played by drunks in the garage next door, this is not for you. But if, like me, you like a blast of visceral energy but also appreciate good production, then the “Meanest of Times” will give you joy.

This album covers the traditional Murphys gamut of subjects. The positive songs invest heavily in themes of family, friendship, drinking and fighting. Yes, for the Murphys a good donnybrook is a perfectly acceptable Saturday night. A good example comes from the first track, “Famous for Nothing” where the boys belt out a chorus of:

“Their gang went my way for basketball
My gang went their way for alcohol
When we met it wasn’t pretty at all
Still the bells of St. Mary’s kept ringing”

The heavier tracks take on serious social issues, none more so than on “State of Massachusetts” a song about children being taken by the state from homes stricken with poverty and violence. On “Vices and Virtues” we hear about friends lost to alcoholism, war, suicide and gun violence. It is grim stuff, sung with an appropriately desperate energy.

The album also features some updated traditionals, including “(F)lannigan’s Ball” and the two-hundred-year-old “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya,” still a powerful combination of martial might and dread. The Murphys fill them all with a fast-paced fist-shaking power that is undeniable.

For all that, this is the same old fare they mastered long ago. If you liked it then, you’ll like it now. Just don’t expect any earth-shattering revelation. The Murphys know what they do and they do it well.

Best tracks: Famous for Nothing, The State of Massachusetts, Vices and Virtues, (F)lannigan’s Ball, Rude Awakenings, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya

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