Dropkick Murphys – Turn Up That Dial (Born & Bred Records)
Out 30 April
Dropkick Murphys pay homage to their influences with tunes that meld punk rock with the sounds of the Irish diaspora. The new album is a welcome return to form says Nathan Brown.
If you ask anyone to provide an example of Celtic Punk then, after The Pogues, many people’s “go to” would be Boston’s Dropkick Murphys – and rightly so. They have been at the helm of the rise of this genre Stateside for the past few decades, having appeared in 1996.
The Dropkick Murphys had a definite punk and Oi influence (especially on their first album) and at times are quite rocky but alongside the usual guitar, bass and drums, over the years the Dropkicks have brought in more and more traditional irish instruments like tin whistle, accordion, banjo and mandolin. They also use bagpipes. Not the Irish Uilleann pipes but the Scots highland bagpipes. Whether or not they were the first no-one will know, but they were the first to be noticed and paved the way for punks with bagpipes. Aside from being Oirish and proud (remember Boston Irish are more Irish than anyone born on the island) the Dropkick Murphys strong sense of identity has always been entwined with trade unions and the working man.
From the outset this album is a bit of a love affair with The Clash. The album title, the font, the ghetto blaster cover (as if lifted straight off Joe’s shoulder): it’s all evocative of The Only Band That Mattered.
Turn Up That Dial starts off with a jaunty rocky accordian and penny whistle led tune which is a slab of prime Celtic Punk. They pay tribute to the singles that influenced them as youngsters, “3 minutes of fury I wish wouldn’t end…you were our sound, you were angry loud and raw” and the rebellion contained within: “We’ll never be your servants and we’ll never be your fodder”. It’s classic DKM with a rousing singalong crew chorus with the penny whistle shrieking away as part of the Celtic wall of sound.
L-E-E-B-O-Y is their tribute to their current bagpipe player. They have form for this, the Spicy McHaggis Jig (a favourite at gigs) being their tribute to their former piper who also gets a name check in this song. From the very outset, the bagpipes have been a part of the trademark Dropkick Murphys sound. With thundering drums, a chuggy guitar sound and the pipes providing the melody, it is pretty much what you expect from the Dropkicks.
Middle Finger is where the massive influence of The Pogues is writ large with the banjo and mandolin replacing the roar of a Marshall stack. It could easily have been borrowed from the Pogues songbook in their Stiff era if it weren’t for the more rocky vocals of Al Barr and Ken Casey. This tale of obnoxiousness and self defeat – a tribute to the classic punk rock salute of defiance – even borrows the abrupt ending of Sally McLennane.
Queen of Suffolk County again borrows heavily from The Pogues, sounding akin to a mash up of London Girl and Rain Street, with a Boston spin. That they can pull this off is a testament to the talent of the musicians in the band, particularly multi-instrumentalists Tim Brennan and Jeff DaRosa.
Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding is the stand-out song of the album for me (and the accompanying video complete with great caricature animation by Adam Murphy). “Oi! Mick Jones nicked my pudding. Oi! Mick Jones leave my pudding alone” . A tongue in cheek “never meet your heroes” narrative that is put to a punchy Clash meets Sham punk tune. Allegedly based on a true story retold to the band by the producer of the album Ted Hutt, whose post-dinner sweet was swiped by The Clash guitar hero. It’s a song I found hard to get out of my head once heard. I’ve been caught singing my own bastardised version to our cat when she wants feeding. Ahem. Name dropping songs here and there, The Clash love affair is completed with the machine gun snare attack from Tommy Gun punctuating the middle break and Mick Jones style guitar lines twiddling away in the soundscape. This stands out as a punchy fun tune. Not for those who’ve had a sense of humour bypass. Playing to one of their strengths, when they get it right these Barroom Heroes can pump out a good rabble rousing shoutalong tune.
HBDMF starts like a whistful misty eyed folky about celebrating your mates’ birthdays but quickly turns into a piss take of childlish, attention seeking self indulgence…which is pretty much a summary of what makes social media selfie culture tick. Happy Birthday Mother Fucker…don’t milk it!
After an anthemic start driven by the drone of the bagpipe Good As Gold ups the ante for a fast punky tribute to the power of a good record to lift your spirits. I am sure The Clash were among the bands on their mind when they write this one.
Smash Shit Up is not too dissimilar to one of the bands more well known tunes Shippin’ Up to Boston in the way the accordian and the pounding drums work along with the obligatory singalong chorus. “I wanna be a rebel, I wanna smash shit up”…don’t we all! No sign of these old hands growing up.
Chosen Few is something of a love song to the Dropkicks beloved “Good ole’ USA, Home of the Free”. The song outlines the idiocy of the Trump response to Covid (“It’s just another flu”) and pokes fun treating their former president as a petulant child “No more silly temper tantrums, let’s all just behave”. When they sing “For our democracy to work we’ve got to see it from both sides. Stop pointing fingers shut your mouth and compromise.” I find it perhaps a little naive and simplistic. Democracy is about disagreement, and whilst finding some form of compromise solution is desirable, if it means ceding to white supremacists that’s storing up a whole load of trouble for later.
City By The Sea is yet another folky number, a love song to their native Boston, in case you forgot how much they love that place and its “salty knuckleheads”.
The slow haunting penny whistle, banjo and accordian of Wish You Were Here winds the album down as a closer. The melancholy feel is fitting for a song that is a tribute for singer Al Barr’s late father. As co-vocalist and founder member Ken Casey said “We’ve never ended an album with a slow song, but we had to end it with a tip of the cap to pay our respects to Woody and so many others. It’s a moment to stop, count our blessings, and remember those who we’ve lost, including the 400,000-plus people to this virus.”
The album is a welcome return to form for Dropkick Murphys, who had been at risk of falling into the trap for many long serving bands of releasing albums with a few stand out songs but too much filler.
Words by Nathan Brown. Check out his Louder Than War Author Archive.