On this solid new disc, the boys are back, indeed, same as they ever were.
You're not likely to be surprised by much of what's on Signed and Sealed in Blood, the eighth record from Celtic-punkers Dropkick Murphys. It's got Irish-folk inflected punk tunes, blue-collar rock 'n roll, and plenty of mentions of drinking and revelry. It also simplifies things following the band's last album, the concept record Going Out in Style. This new set is a bunch of catchy rock tunes likely to whip die-hard fans into a shouting, gang-vocal frenzy.
And the Dropkicks seem more than aware of their fans' loyalty, as they introduced a tattoo contest in the run-up to their new album's release, inviting students to get a tattoo of the logo on the album's cover. If this seems like an awfully permanent honor, it didn't stop a lot of fans from taking part in the contest. The idea comes from album track "Rose Tattoo", which sets up a lot of what Signed and Sealed in Blood (and much of the Dropkicks' discography) is all about. It's a great mesh of folk tradition and rock power, and one of the better pure gems the band has produced in a few years, and it focuses on honoring the past warts 'n all, paying tribute to it, in this case, through tattoo. But, in a larger context, it's about the marks our pasts leave on us, how they shape us. And it's that hard-earned past that allows the Dropkicks to sing "The boys are back and they're looking for trouble!" with such fervor to open the album.
It also sets up the opposition in the album, where the powers-that-be seem to be trying to press their thumb on the working-class peers of the Dropkick Murphys. On "Prisoner's Song", Al Barr growls about "looking back on the past when we still had a chance" even though they were "pawns in a game that we could not win." Meanwhile, "The Battle Rages On" puts two vague sides against each other, but we still get the trod-upon "righteous" beating the "mighty" who, eventually, "fall on their sword." We also get the Springsteen-esque rocker "Don't Tear Us Apart", which feels both more braced and more desperate, even pleading, than those other entries.
The link between all of these is a call for camaraderie and community, one that shifts into party mode as often as it incites battles between haves and have-nots. "Burn" is a pop-punk charger, the fastest song here and the most energetic, while "Out on the Town" pushes the Dropkicks into classic-rock territory and away from Irish influences (unless they are, you know, Thin Lizzy). The boozy sway of closer "End of the Night" is both weary with hard work and sweet tired with revelry.
So what we get here are some solid takes -- "Burn" and "Prisoner's Song" and "Rose Tattoo" in particular -- of sounds and themes we've heard from the Dropkick Murphys before. Nothing shocking here, but there's a stubborn, hard-working consistency to this that reflects their blue-collar aesthetic. Of course, there are some perplexing moments here, chief among them bitter Christmas tune "The Season's Upon Us", which might be funny enough for one listen, but it also feels forced in its dark humor, and doesn't fit on a record that, well, has nothing to do with the holidays. And while the band creates a lot of goodwill by once again crafting songs to sing with their fans and not at them, their focus on the "righteous" feels a bit too lofty, overselling their blue-collar side. They convinced us long ago that they are one of the people's bands, so it’s sometimes confusing why they still try to convince us they're still fighting in the trenches. Even the tattoo contest, and the title of the album, feel like a bit much, more like forced proof than offered loyalty.
Still, the album's a solid listen, the band's most consistent record in a while, and -- more importantly -- their most energetic set since Blackout. It's a bit of a retreat after the more ambitious Going Out in Style, and it'd be interesting to see what could happen if the band kept pushing into new territory. But here they sound confident on the solid ground they've built over their previous albums and avoid feeling too comfortable, which is harder to pull off than it sounds. The boys are back, indeed, same as they ever were.