Recorded in the admittedly out of place surroundings of El Paso, Texas, 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory, the ninth album by Celtic-punkers Dropkick Murphys, opens with their signature sound before upping the energy with a fast-paced frenzied set. It follows their 2013 record Signed and Sealed in Blood in its catchiness and ready-to-fight anthems. But, this record also reflects on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and doubles down on its defense of the band’s community — even while they recorded it far from their home base and away from the environment they embody. This record is fast, fun, and energetic, bringing audiences with the band as they champion fighting to protect what they feel is right, what they knew, or what they wanted.
This is a fighting and recovery album, songs look backward, attack transgressors, and call everyone to the community for support and strength. The album opens by lamenting on the too-often treatment by society of those that struggle or fail in “Rebels with a Cause”. When they succumb to problems like drugs or violence, they are dismissed and rejected, but the album focuses on taking the pain of that treatment, and other struggles, and using it for recovery and moving forward. When the album closes with “Until the Next Time”, it’s clear that the band have committed to offering help and their hand in overcoming any pain and fight.
In the first few songs, the music loudly signifies pain, and songs like “Blood” demonstrate the band will use action as a response to any challengers. Immediately, the following track “Sandlot” reveals a loss and need for recovery, before the middle tracks “First Class Loser” and “Paying My Way” identify a target and lay out the plan for striking back. There is a strong Springsteen influence worth tracking in these transitional tracks, too. It’s easy to sense these songs were meant and will connect with audiences looking for themes about community and strength in the wake of tragedy, and it’s a fitting album for listeners looking for that revelry and comfort after the election of 2016.
“I Had a Hat” and “Kicked to the Curb” bring the tales of pain to their climax, setting up the turn toward glory revealed by the album’s title. The Dropkick Murphys have never hid their working aesthetic or allegiance to blue-collar qualities in their music, and on each successive album they remind us they are right there on the front line fighting for you and with you. Here they duplicate that thread of their discography precisely, albeit without the preeminence of the bagpipes that the band carries. It’s the first album in over a decade without longtime bagpiper Scruffy Wallace, and their new player is not officially in the band. For a relatively new listener, that absence isn’t a loss so much, unless you are expecting a specific sound or style. In that place are tunes that experiment and bring in new influences to back up the rowdiness and willingness to fight for cultural, community, and personal issues stand out more emphatically.
The album is titled with a theme of glory unfolding throughout, but the real strength in the songs on 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory is the ability to use fighting and pain for recovery – which turns into glory. The cover of Gerry and the Pacemakers, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” cements those elements precisely and hints of the recovery necessitated by the stories that unfold throughout the record. The song also illustrates the Dropkick Murphys drug recovery and community charity Claddagh Fund. This song segues directly into the album’s requiem for the Boston Marathon bombing on Patriots’ Day in 2013, “4-15-13.” The impact of that event and the days that followed on everyone in the Boston community (and the nation) is delicately combined with the lyrics and subdued music that brings all into sharing in recovery.
11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is a timely record, filled with anthems of support and community that will resonate with the band’s fanbase, and may attract new listeners looking for messages of hope and recovery — and perhaps tinged with a fight! The fast-paced, frenzied atmosphere of the songs pushes for action and confronting any pain to find recovery. Where they and we go next is left unanswered, but this album shows the Dropkick Murphys are energized and focused.