The Dropkick Murphys came as a huge shock to most punk fans with 1998’s Do or Die. For kids who had never heard of the Pogues, Do or Die’s mix of rock, folk and Irish music was unprecedented. Of course there was a precedent, but the Murphs gave the formula their own twist with harsh, driving guitars and their patented “10 drunks shouting in a bar” choruses.
They have since been unable to match both the shock value and song quality of that first record. Former lead singer Mike McColgan bailed the band to fight fires in their hometown of Boston, and even the biggest DM fans never embraced new singer Al Barr the way they did Mike. It’s a little unfair, because Al’s got a strong, unique voice – it’s the music that’s gotten weaker.
That trend continues through most of DM’s latest offering, blackout. They take a step in the right direction by stripping their sound down from the huge instrumentals of 2001’s Sing Loud, Sing Proud, but many of the chord progressions stray dangerously close to the land of pop. The 10 drunken guys are still doing the choruses, but somewhere along the line they learned how to harmonize.
The lyrics haven’t softened, but they’ve gotten a little stale. The Murphs have played out the working-class themes so much that their words have become trite and corny. The chorus of “Worker’s Song” is almost laughable with its heavy doses of Irish self-pity: “We’re the first ones to starve, we’re the first ones to die / The first ones in line for our pie in the sky.”
The album does have a few solid moments, including “Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight,” a fast-paced shouter originally written by Woody Guthrie, and “Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced,” which is so damn funny and discordant you can’t help but sing along. But this record has too many tracks that are automatic skippers as opposed to Do or Die, which you could just pop in the player, crack a bottle of whiskey, and sit back and enjoy.
[Travis Hunter is a-going where streams of whiskey are a-flowing.]