PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Dropkick Murphys: The Meanest of Times

Even if the results are mixed, at least the Murphys get some of their energy back on The Meanest of Times.

Dropkick Murphys

The Meanest of Times

Label: Born & Bred
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: Available as import

While the Dropkick Murphys' following could be more in flux nationally, their reputation in New England is pretty much bulletproof. And they've tested that bulletproof theory in recent years, with a handful of decisions that could only alienate fans and cast them as another bunch of media whores. Chief among these missteps is "Tessie", used in the awful Fever Pitch film and as an anthem for the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The song is irritating all on its own, but that it was jammed down anyone's throat in jamming range made it that much worse. The tune also signaled a low point for the band, as it was followed by The Warrior's Code, the band's weakest album to date. The Dropkick Murphys were at their end days, or so it seemed. But instead of fading out, they're back with The Meanest of Times, and it is at least a bit of a rebound.

Since their fantastic first album, Do or Die, the Dropkicks have been in a slow but steady decline. When original singer Mike McColgan left the band and Al Barr took his place, remaining band leader Ken Casey did his best to steer the ship. But with every release the songs got a little more derivative, a little more self-imitating, and with the exception of a few great songs ("Bastards on Parade" and "A Dirty Glass" in particular) everything started to meld together. Perhaps they were energized by the response to "I'm Shipping Up to Boston", their inclusion on The Departed soundtrack, because The Meanest of Times has some of the best songs the band has done in the Al Barr era.

Opener "Famous for Nothing" is typically anthemic, but with an energy that's been lacking from the past two albums. It also sets the stage for a disk full of romantic memory for a past often far from romantic. There's plenty of Catholic guilt and hell raising to be found in these songs, and it is in the childhood stories of booze and basketball, of loyal friends and minimum wage, that the band is at their peak. "Surrender" is the best track here, with a chorus that ropes you into singing along, instead of shouting a quick blue collar tagline. The song also featured some fantastic guitar work, substituting a surf riff for the power chords that populate the bulk of the album. "God Willing" is a straightforward break-up song, and when Casey wails, "It's the last time I'll put my arms around you, the last time I'll look in your eyes", it is one of the most believable moments on the album.

Where the Murphys start to run into trouble, though, is when they stray from the heartfelt childhood memories. "State of Massachusetts" is a DSS anthem, and also the inexplicable lead single. The song manages to waste a solid banjo riff by not only burying it in the mix, but also by stuffing in a tired broken home story full of way too many off-rhythm lyrics, sung by Al Barr with marbles in his mouth -- and his vocals are barely tolerable when they're clear. "Flannigan's Ball" finds the Murphys once again singing a (flat) drunken brawl tune and misusing help from members of the Dubliners and the Pogues. "Vices and Virtues" has a different, and more dubious type of romance to it, where it eulogizes a group of brothers killed by "Whiskey, war, suicide, and guns", and the band seems to attribute a kind of heroism to guys who we know nothing about, aside from how they died. Towards the end of the record, "Shattered" has the band condemning easy targets like 'roided-up athletes and perverted clergymen and by this point any thematic wheels have come way off the tracks.

The band also steers away from its signature Celtic elements more than it embraces them. Rather than mesh it with punk, as they've done in the past, there are distinctively Irish songs on the album, and only a handful at that. One of them, a ballad titled "Fairmount Hill", finds Al Barr trying his best Celtic croon, and failing.

In the end, The Meanest of Times is definitely a mixed bag, but it has glimmers of hope. The band sounds re-energized here, and while the quality of the songs is very up and down, they at least all have their muscle back. This album may not be the full-on revival of the Dropkick Murphys as they once were (and without McColgan at vocals, that may never happen), but it is a step in the right direction.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.