BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — The Dropkick Murphys are easily the most successful Boston punk band in a decade. Their anti-ska, heavy guitar hardcore/revivalist punk sound and stridently working class, socially conscious lyrics conjure up early Clash and remind you that, though we have, in the last decade, been barraged by more Offspring /Green Day style California- pop-punk than you can shake an MTV Video Music Award at, this is what Punk is SUPPOSED to be all about.
On their first full length album, “Do Or Die” (Hellcat, 1997) DMK established themselves as blue collar Irish- American Boston boys who know their roots — both musically and culturally.
Produced by Rancid’s Lars Fredrikson, the album offered acoustic ballads, bagpipes, flutes and re-workings of traditional Irish drinking songs woven into an early- hardcore punk foundation.
Matt McClogan’s vocal style — not a growl but a hearty, Boston-tinged howl, was raw but not unlistenable — at times even warm and always a wonderful compliment to the material.
Bassist/songwriter Ken Casey penned “Boys on The Docks,” a heartwarming pub singalong about his grandfather, who had been instrumental in organizing Boston’s dock workers’ union during the Depression back to back with the hardcore anthem “Fightstarter Karaoke.”
In short, the Murphys’ debut was a godsend, a beautiful return to Punk as it was intended: sincere, urgent, socially conscious, infectious.
A constant theme of that album, and seemingly one inexorably tied to the Murphys themselves, was friendship, brotherhood, a bond evolved through years of dedication to one another and their scene.
That may be why I was so surprised to learn that, at some point before the recent Vans sponsored Warped Tour and the recording of their new album, “The Gang’s All Here” (Hellcat), the group split with vocalist Matt McClogan. While the split was somewhat shrouded in mystery, DMK released a statement saying that McClogan no longer felt that he could, in good conscience, continue with the band and that the band is “part of a movement that Matt no longer feels a part of.”
Sounds suspiciously as though McClogan didn’t want to sell out, though the consensus among fans seems to be that he couldn’t handle the touring. Whatever the reason – the Gang’s All New.
Replacing McClogan on the new album is Al Barr, the heavily tattooed, high octane vocalist formerly of Boston’s The Bruisers. Barr’s vocal style is much more hardcore — more a growl than McClogan’s, but, again, not unpleasant. He lacks the Boston accent that was half the Murphys’ charm and certainly a trademark, but he does do wonderful things with what he has.
Still, I was a bit thrown off and had, even after one album, become a bit attached to the old lineup. I popped in the new album hesitantly … and was pleasantly surprised.
“The Gang’s All Here” expands on “Do Or Die” — going in a more punk and less hardcore direction.
While the Murphys admit to trying to attract a wider audience, they’ve far from sold their souls for rock and roll.
Although I initially found myself a bit thrown by the new sound, the album grew on me like a fungus.
“Ten Years of Service,” which includes the socialist musings “Who’s gonna save us from this lonely picket line?” and “The status of our future in both past and present time/ is relegated to member of a higher class than mine” is much catchier than it sounds and the somewhat controversial “Pipe Bomb on Landsdowne” is an old school Boston hardcore assault on the city’s drug addled rave culture.
Also offered are the Murphys’ punked out arrangements of the traditional songs “Amazing Grace” and “The Fighting 69th.”
All in all a very satisfying album from a band on its way up who have clearly already conquered those most dreaded musical states — states which have killed more punk bands than bad contracts and heroin combined: change and growth.
Joe Wilbur is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
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