[4 May 2011]
PopMatters Events Editor
If you like Dropkick Murphys, you’re going to like Going Out in Style. Everything that you’ve grown to know and love over the years from the Celtic punk band is present on this latest installment – there are bagpipes, mandolins, banjos, accordions, tin whistles, and all the gang vocals you could pack into one album. No, you won’t find anything particularly new or groundbreaking on Going Out in Style, but you will find a band who has been continually honing in on their own sound over the course of the past decade-and-a-half and sounds as comfortable and well-rounded in their own element as anyone else in the punk scene.
The first thing you need to know about Going Out in Style is that it is a concept album. The fictional character Cornelius Larkin is just the kind of man you would expect to find on a Dropkick Murphys release: a rough-around-the-edges working-class Irish immigrant who predictably can hold his liquor and knows his way around a good old fashioned brawl. Over the course of the album, we hear stories of his days at war, his search for love, and the good times he’s spent with his family and friends. The stories feel so real and honest, you’d almost think that Cornelius is an actual buddy of the band – they even went so far as to include an obituary in the linear notes of the album. It’s clear that this is more than just a collection of songs to Dropkick Murphys; it feels much closer to being their own stories and the stories of their families.
The album starts off with a bang in the form of “Hang ‘Em High”, an ode to war in which Cornelius remembers the struggles of the battlefield. You can almost see the dirt on his unshaven face and the weapon clutched in his rough, chapped hands as the band chants “We waited together for the cowards to come / Outgunned and outnumbered but we wouldn’t run / No mercy, no quarter, they’ll pay for their sins / Now lower the cannons, the battle begins!” Although the subject matter repeats itself from time to time, the flow of the album is mostly seamless as the band transitions through barn burners such as “Memorial Day” and “Sunday Hardcore Matinee” to softer songs like “Broken Hymns” and “1953”.
Along with foot stomping, fist pumping, sing-alongs, we’re given the added treat of several notable guest appearances along the way. The album’s title track features vocals from Chris Cheney of The Living End, actor/comedian Lenny Clarke, and NOFX singer Fat Mike, and wait – is that The Boss singing a verse on “Peg o’ My Heart”? Why yes, it is. The peppy love song is one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album, made only better with the inclusion of Springsteen.
In order for a concept album such as this to succeed, we need to have reason to care about the character. Dropkick Murphys have the added challenge of reconciling this idea into a genre that has rarely seen concept albums orchestrated well. Fortunately for the band, they’re able to communicate their stories with ease, and given their background, Cornelius becomes immediately believable and relatable to the listener. Couple that with the band’s continued knack of pulling off their trademark sound, and it’s clear that Dropkick Murphys have crafted a great story and a very fun album. Though it may not be remembered as their greatest work, Going Out in Style is a risk the band needed to take, and the payoff is well worth it.