Time catches up with us all, and the evidence presented on 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory suggests that the members of Dropkick Murphys are perhaps starting to not feel quite as invincible as they once did when they started out back in 1996. In a recent interview bassist/songwriter Ken Casey discussed the somewhat detrimental effects and distractions of family life on the band. They’ve seen the results of serious drug addiction on their families, local community and country and lent their support to The Claddagh Fund, an organisation that supports addiction rehabilitation. Having witnessed the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, they’ve seen the face of their city change overnight.
As time passes, it leaves its mark, not even the good-time knees up sound of Dropkick Murphys can escape. They’ve always been a band that seemed to preach living in the now, but on Sandlot the fourth song on 11 Short Stories, the band reflect on the joys of being young, and for a short time, embrace a little sepia toned nostaglia. “When we were young,” they holler, recalling the times when they’d be stealing sweets and cars, playing stick ball, and revelling in the apparently endless glory of youth under an expansive sky of possibility. “We were rich, but no one told us, we didn’t know” effectively delivers the wisdom that every older generation has sought to impart to the youth – make the most of it, you don’t know you’re born.
Whilst this emotional look back might suggest they’ve got one foot in the grave, there’s plenty of fight left yet. In the past, this would have taken the form of furious punk, but this time around the Dropkicks have expanded their sound out into something far grander than anything they’ve attempted before. It’s not that they can’t do punk anymore, but clearly the stadium sized emotional rock of Bruce Springsteen has rubbed off on them. If Clarence Clemons had been a whizz on the bagpipes, it seems likely that The Boss would have come up with something along the lines of Blood. A huge chant of self-belief and never say die attitude, it’s the sound of huddled masses not only yearning to breathe free but breaking the chains and taking over. Similarly, Paying My Way mixes the stomp of Queen’s We Will Rock You with a Springsteenesque tale of hard work, hard living, fighting to survive and succeeding. Rebels With A Cause meanwhile harnesses The Clash at their most overblown and whips up an anthem for dispossessed youth. The most poignant moment of the album (and arguably the entire of the band’s career) comes in the shape of 4-15-13 a song that attempts to make some sense of The Boston Marathon Bombing whilst presenting a unified front of resilience and remembrance. Fortunately it’s carefully handled, finding the right mix of message and song it becomes a moving call for unity in the face of terror.
Of course a Dropkicks album wouldn’t be complete without a few nods to tradition. The whole thing opens up with The Lonesome Boatman, a stirring Irish folk song given a sense of roaring belief by the chanted vocals, in the Murphys’ hands it becomes a bellowed call to arms that will surely become a live favourite over the coming months. I Had A Hat (once performed by The Andrews Sisters) will also find them jigging in the aisles, as it’s the closest this album gets to the punk/folk of the Murphys’ older material. Perhaps the only real misstep comes in the shape of their cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The sentiment behind its inclusion is well meaning enough, with the band finding the song’s message of support in times of turmoil apposite, but it’s a hard song to pull off convincingly and with the sheer weight of historical emotional baggage attached to it, particularly in the UK, the band’s adoption of it as an anthem doesn’t quite work.
They close with Until The Next Time which somehow taps in to Madness’ habit of writing a good time cockney sentimental knees up (really). Quite whether the lyrics of parting and closure relate to the album or the band itself remains to be seen, but there’s a definite sense of finality here. Hopefully Dropkick Murphys will be a round a good while yet and we’ll definitely meet again.