Dropkick Murphys: Blackout

[8 June 2003]

By Jason MacNeil

The Dropkick Murphys cite several Irish, Celtic, and punk rock groups as their influences, but this album is dedicated to three deceased musicians and friends—Brian Pollihan, Kenny Walls, and Joe Strummer. And the same lust for life Strummer had for a half-century fuels much of the fire on this latest album. Although the hard and gritty Celtic punk can be heard from start to finish, the group also has been assisted by some of the original punks. Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody, brought unused lyrics to the band’s attention. Regardless of this odd collaboration, the Dropkick Murphys still kick some kilts, er, ass around on this album.

Opening with “Walk Away”, lead singers Ken Casey and Al Barr work their way through this bruising three-chord track that unfortunately isn’t as polished as the likes of Blink-182 or Sum 41. The guitars here are unrelenting but drummer Matt Kelly puts the finishing touches with some great work. “Worker’s Song”, which has certain themes that date back to Guthrie’s pro-union, pro-working man stance. “For our skills are not needed / They streamline the job”, the band sings in unison as Scruffy Wallace blows his pipes. It sounds from the onset that the group is maturing lyrically, not using the simple, humorous banter of some previous efforts. Guitarists Marc Orrell and James Lynch lead some very fine solos in the middle before the song heads into a deep Celtic conclusion.

“The Outcast” is a tad more on the quirky side mainly because the arrangement sounds a bit more like rockabilly than punk. The ascending and descending bass line, while deep in the music, takes a bit longer for the listener to get into, if at all. It comes off as the album’s outcast, mainly because there are three very good ideas going on at the same time, but no one great idea. As a result, it’s above average, but not great. The traditional Pogues-ish “Black Velvet Band” sounds like Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, particularly with its slow building start. Moving into a totally hell-raising, thrash-your-room-or-roommate, this tune never loses its momentum. You can envision the beers overflowing from glasses as the throng sway, arms over shoulders, singing the concluding lines. “Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight”, which is the Guthrie penned track, is a bit moodier and darker. A straightforward punk track, the Dropkick Murphys give the song its due, but isn’t as powerful as it could be.

“World Full of Hate” is probably the highlight of the record, a melodic acoustic tune that evolves into a fine song simply because of the change of pace that is offered. The sparse track, featuring primarily vocal and acoustic guitar, resembles Green Day’s tune, “Time of Your Life”. Marc Orrell’s accordion complements the vocals and acoustic guitar nicely. “Buried Alive” returns to the lovable mayhem though, with more of the no-nonsense Celtic punk that is instantly toe tapping. “The Dirty Glass” only adds to the luster, courtesy of vocals by lass Stephanie Dougherty. Being the late Kristy MacColl to Barr’s Shane McGowan, this track could be the modern day “Fairytale of New York”. “Bastards on Parade” is another softer, acoustic tune that has a sound in the vein of Gordon Gano and Violent Femmes. But it moves back into the band’s bread and butter, a punk-cum-Celtic twist they turn to time after time.

What makes the album work is the band realizing that no song should be filler on a record. While there might be one or two that raises an eyebrow, songs such as “This Is Your Life” are just as urgent as the first track. Maybe it was the death of some idols and pals that put a dose of reality into the record, but it’s an improvement on Do or Die. The bonus DVD includes favorites like “Rocky Road to Dublin” and “Boys on the Docks” plus trailer footage of a forthcoming live DVD. But for now, this will have to do. And it certainly does!

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/dropkickmurphys-blackout/