The years have been kind to the Dropkick Murphys. They have made their way from being a blue-collar Boston Irish punk band to being the band with the featured song in the 2006 Academy Award winning film The Departed. They are a band whose albums chart higher with each release (2007's The Meanest of Times debuted in the Billboard Top 20) and they've become poster boys for their hometown, with an internationally-known run of St. Patrick's Day shows every year and an attachment to their hometown sports best knows by their run of anthems for their teams.
It's not simple serendipity that's placed them there, nor is it through the formulaic hit writing that has escalated other bands to the top. It's been by espousing the blue-collar work ethic they personify and by the band's attachment to causes they believe in. The Dropkick Murphys have always been unabashed underdogs with a positive message and something to prove, and the punk world and world in general alike have embraced them for it, and rightly so.
The 6th studio album from the Dropkick Murphys, Going Out In Style finds the band exactly where they should be, on top of their game but unwilling to stagnate. It's a broad evolutionary album for the band - their most ambitious yet - and as result it's an exciting time for music.
At it's heart, one could call Going Out In Style a concept album, but that's not an entirely apt description. It's more and less at the same time - one could just as easily say it's a story, told in the great storytelling tradition of the Irish. The story in this case is the story of Cornelius Larkin.
Murphys bassist Ken Casey explains, “Cornelius has passed on to the other side, and the album becomes a retrospective of his life. He’s one of those guys who immigrated to America at 16, got drafted into the Korean War, married young, had lots of kids, worked hard, and lived a full life rife with different characters, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations. Some of the stories are fictional, but most are odes to our grandparents, friends, and loved ones.”
The band isn't relying on song alone to tell Larkin's tale. They enlisted the aid of best-selling author Michael Patrick MacDonald (All Souls, Easter Rising to write the obituary for Cornelius Larkin in the album’s liner notes, along with the beginnings of a much more in-depth story. MacDonald is also exploring the possibility that the story could evolve into a book in 2011 - possibly making Going Out In Style a soundtrack to a book yet to be written.
It's this classic Irish ability to spin a story that has created many great writers and albums like Going Out In Style. As a good Irish acquaintance of mine once explained, "the Irish are very good at telling stories, because for a long time our stories were all we could afford."
The album opens in classic Murphys style with "Hang 'Em High," a broad unforgettable anthem with a big bagpipe-fueled sound and a fistpumping chorus. From then on the album is an unrelentless good time, laden with chant and anthem. Repeatedly, the band hits you with their trademark rollicking tunes - high-speed affairs like "The Hardest Mile" and "Deeds Not Words" meant to leave you sweaty and happy by songs' end.
The album's title track is even purer to the feeling that Dropkick Murphys have bolstered over the years. It's working-class Boston Irish punk rock with bagpipes and guitars, and it's chanted humorous conversational lyrics, this time complete with guest vocals from NOFX’s Fat Mike, The Living End’s Chris Cheney and actor/comedian Lenny Clarke.
It's not the only collaboration on the album; the band tops it off with their version of “Peg ‘O My Heart," this time with the addition of Bruce Springsteen on guest vocals. Springsteen is a good choice for a guest this time around - when you're putting together a record that reads like a story, why not work with an American singer who's proven he's one of the best at it?
“Memorial Day” is another uplifting powerful song, a nod to the tireless work ethic that has helped build this country and this band. It's a tribute to anyone who struggled for something better for the simple sake of dreaming about having more.
“Sunday Hardcore Matinee” is a departure from the Larkin storyline, but its enthusiasm and positivity rings true to the overall feeling. It's a tribute to the band's own adolescence and upbringing that name drops old school bands and the pits of the old hardcore matinees, as well as the band's desire to hold on to the feelings and friendships forged back then.
The band breaks away"Broken Hymns," "Cruel" and "1953" explore more traditional Irish sounds. They are melancholy and sweet, with an inspiring and uplifting vibe - none more so than "1953," a beautiful tune about Larkin's return from Korea to fall in love. And they grab hold of the Irish standards as well, with their take on the "Irish Rover" - and a fun take it is.
Of course, no Murphys album would be complete without their nod of support to organized labor. This time around, it's “Take ‘Em Down,” that becomes Going Out In Style's "Boys On The Docks," complete with a chorus that hammers home the band's beliefs in the unions that their families helped create.
By album's end Going Out In Style is complex and diverse, showcasing the evolution of the band but at no point leaving you feeling like they've sacrificed any of their energy, passion or sheer punk passion due to age, popularity or for any reason at all.
It's evolutionary and revolutionary for the band. It's an album created to make you feel at home whether you're in the pit or back by the bar, singing along with a mug in one hand and your arm draped over the shoulder of your best friend. It's the positive vibe that the Murphys have helped create and expose the world to over the years, and it's their biggest and best yet, without ever denying or forgetting their roots.
Release Date: March 1, 2011 (Review from Punk Music)