Survival of the Fittest
Dropkick Murphys have been around since 1995, which is an eternity in punk years. They have reached that point in their history where they can legitimately release an album based on the themes of survival and victory. The Warrior’s Code is something of a victory lap for this band, and also proof that they have enough left in them for many, many more classic albums of Irish folk-infused punk rock. As they note on the opening track, “Your Spirit’s Alive”, “We are the ones who will never be broken / We are the ones who’ll survive”.
Part of the reason that Dropkick Murphys can last longer than their peers is their depth. They can do straightforward punk rock (“Your Spirit’s Alive”) or straightforward Irish folk (“The Green Fields of France”). They can mix it up, and write a punk rock song that sounds like an Irish standard, (the title track, which features a healthy mix of bagpipes and mandolin). They could also record Irish standards that sound like self-penned punk rock numbers, like on “Captain Kelly’s Kitchen”. Dropkick Murphys have a seemingly unlimited numbers of paths they could travel; they seem just as likely to appear in a dingy punk rock club as a folk festival.
What keeps The Warrior’s Code together is that the band always seems to approach every genre from the same standpoint. Separated from Ireland by an entire ocean, Dropkick Murphys express their heritage differently than, taking the obvious counter-example, the Pogues. They are brash and loud where the Pogues were disorderly and sentimental, probably as a result of their youth in the working class neighborhoods of South Boston. They even mock their own thuggish tendencies on the hilarious “Wicked Sensitive Crew”, where they attempt to pass themselves off as something more than the goons they appear to be, by offering evidence such as the fact that they cried “when Mickey died in Rocky II”.
The irony is that there is a sensitive side right underneath their brash exterior. “Your Spirit’s Alive”, for instance, is a tribute to a dead friend. “The Green Fields of France” shows a remarkable fragility, an entirely sincere piano-driven standard about long ago casualties from the First World War Not coincidentally, a later song, “The Last Letter Home”, incorporates parts of a letter written by a Dropkick Murphys fan who was killed in Iraq. Combined with the more lighthearted “Citizen CIA”, a punk song that works as a fake advertisement to join the CIA (“four weeks vacation and a 401K!”), these songs form a trilogy that acts as a (thankfully) subtle war protest.
Despite the gritty title and subject matter, The Warrior’s Code is actually a lot more pop oriented than previous Dropkick Muphys albums. “Sunshine Highway”, in fact, is a catchy, rock and roll tune that owes nothing to punk. Don’t fret, hardcore faithful—even when Dropkick Murphys lean more towards pop hooks and simple song structures, The Warrior’s Code is still a devastating album that lives up to its macho mantras. In fact, this is one of those refreshing albums that prove that punk rock can remain vital, even if the bands and their fans face the realities of maturation.
Punk rock, believe it or not, can even change the world. The last song on the album, a radically revamped version of an old Broadway standard, “Tessie”, acts as living proof. Years ago, a group of loyal fans sang this song to cheer on the Red Sox and irritate their opponents during a pivotal World Series game. Last year, in a desperate attempt to halt their 86 years World Series win drought, the Red Sox management brought back “Tessie”, as performed by Dropkick Murphys, to play after every Red Sox win. In celebration, Dropkick Murphys have revised “Tessie” to act as a fitting end to an album dedicated to the code of the warrior. The Red Sox spent 86 years without giving up hope, and, from the evidence of their latest album, we can only hope Dropkick Murphys have that same stamina that will allow them to last many, many more years.