For a while now, Dropkick Murphys have held the Celtic punk crown. But, at this point, it is hard to figure why. Much of that rests on a long-ago built reputation that their recent output can’t support. Further complicating the notion that Dropkick Murphys are the be-all and end-all is Flogging Molly’s impressive discography. It’s been four years since their last record—an eternity in the punk rock world—and that may have something to do with their slight decline in scene presence. But now, back with Float, the band picks up right where it left off in 2004, and continues its impressive run.
What makes Flogging Molly’s take on Celtic music so much more effective than any of their ilk is, first and foremost, an earnest dedication. The Irish elements on Dropkick Murphys albums, particularly of late, sound like an afterthought, like a layer added to the songs long after completion, one easily stripped away. But Flogging Molly integrate traditional tropes and instruments, they use mandolin and accordion and strings to channel Celtic elements, and singer Dave King, an Irishman himself, has the perfect snarling brogue to deliver these blue-collar anthems.
But they’re also not a traditional band. They use traditional elements, to be sure, but they infuse them into their own brand of rock and roll. Sometimes, like in “You Won’t Make a Fool Out of Me”, it comes out in breakneck punk. “Requiem for a Dying Song” slows the tempo slightly, and is more of a straightforward rock song. And, set next to folk ballads like the title track and “Us of Lesser Gods”, the band shows off a breadth on the album’s eleven tracks that is impressive.
Also impressive on Float are the subtle signs of the band’s maturity. They’re still full of piss and vinegar, but experience has taught them to temper their delivery. King’s shrill shriek, once a constant in their tracks, is reserved here for only necessary moments. His vocals have gotten stronger over the band’s four records, and on songs like “Lightning Storm” we find him belting out sweet vocals over the band’s rollicking sound, instead of snarling all the time. He also tries out subtle variations in his vocal melodies that give the quicker songs subtle differences upon repeat listens.
Float also continues a more overtly political road that came out in the band’s previous album, Within a Mile of Home. On that album, King sung of the “Burning Bush”, a not-so-sly reference to George W. And here, King maligns a time where “the order of the day is don’t listen, attack”. Much of the record shows these glimpses of a world difficult to travel through, but still tries to keep personal hope alive. Songs like “Float” and the excellent “Punch Drunk Grinning Soul” show us the war and terror of the modern world, but fight for a personal freedom, a strength to carry on in the midst of the turmoil. You can picture King singing, with a hard-earned, working-day-sun squint, looking like he should be all cynical defeat, and instead pushing forward with determination.
It is a smart turn for Flogging Molly. So often, punk rock can show societal ills and, rather than push back against them, just sneer at them with self-important removal. They set themselves outside, and above, society. But Flogging Molly are smarter than that, and with Float they’ve delivered another strong album that is more assured than their other records, and offers a hopeful energy. It may be weary at times, and occasionally tinged with an honest bitterness, but it is hope nonetheless. So, here’s hoping Float shoves Flogging Molly up to the top of the heap—not just of the Celtic-punk, but perhaps of punk rock as a whole—where they belong. They’ve worked hard over the years, and exerted a rare patience, and its time they saw a larger return on their investment.
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