Album Of The Week: Dropkick Murphys Signed And Sealed In Blood
St. Patrick’s Day 2001, I’m shipping back up to Syracuse, back to school after a spring break spent doing nothing but playing Wrestlemania 2000 on the Nintendo 64 and drinking with my friends in Baltimore. It’s five in the morning, and I haven’t slept. My friend Nat was supposed to pick me up the previous afternoon, but he had a term paper to finish, and he’s been on the phone with my all night, telling me he’s almost done and he’ll come get me really soon. When he finally does show up, we both pop like five caffeine pills each and start off the seven-hour drive. I put on Sing Loud, Sing Proud, the album that Boston beerpunk crew Dropkick Murphys had released the year before, because he hasn’t heard it and I know he’ll love it. He does. Nat’s not Irish like me, but we both visited my godmother in Belfast a couple of summers ago and drank Guinness and pretended like we belonged there. And anyway, Nat and I spent most of high school pushing people around in VFW Halls around Baltimore and bellowing along with songs about how punks and skins should be united or whatever. (Underrated late ’90s song topic: Punk and skin unity. So many songs about that!) And so the Murphys’ bagpipes-and-mandolins-and-drunk-dudes roar-alongs are very much hitting us where we live. We play the album a whole bunch on that drive, get there around noon, start drinking immediately, keep popping caffeine pills, start puking by 7, pass out before any of the parties start. That was a great day. The Murphys’ new album Signed And Sealed In Blood isn’t as good as Sing Loud, Sing Proud, but it’s not as far off as you’d expect. 12 years later, I expect a few college kids will use this to soundtrack similar St. Patrick’s Day experiences this year. I hope so, anyway.
For eight albums and the better part of two decades now, the Dropkick Murphys have done exactly one thing, and they’ve done it way, way better than any of the bands who have sprung up in their wake. They fuse all the trappings of Irish tourist music to the messy bleary beltings of a punk scene most famous for having so, so many fights. They nod toward folk music, sometimes; their Departed soundtrack staple “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” which will play at every Boston sporting event until the end of time, is based on unearthed Woody Guthrie scribblings, and my favorite Sing Loud, Sing Proud song might’ve been their version of the union anthem “Which Side Are You On?” And bits of rockabilly and metal sometimes creep into a song or two per album. Bruce Springsteen showed up on their last album, then kinda bit their style on his own 2012 song “Death To My Hometown.” But this is mostly furiously straight-ahead music, utterly unashamed and unambitious in its pursuit of some hammerhead-riff brogue-yell platonic ideal. And when I’m in the right mood, there’s nothing I’d rather listen to. Except maybe the Pogues.
The shadow of the Pogues will always loom huge over the Murphys, especially when the Murphys insist on including their own novelty Christmas song on an album that comes out two weeks after Christmas. (Sample lyrics from “The Season’s Upon Us”: “My nephew’s a horrible wise little twit / He once gave me a nice giftwrapped box full of shit.” Not exactly “Fairytale Of New York,” then. Actually, it’s more fun to think of it as a CBS sitcom pilot, or as an elevator pitch for a Vince Vaughn comedy.) But if the Pogues were skag-addled London wiseacre punks doing their own take on the Dubliners, then the Murphys are tatted-up Boston knucklehead SSD fans doing their own take on the Pogues. There’s precious little of the Pogues’ fatalistic poetry in what the Murphys do, but the Murphys might have them beat as far as bruiser momentum goes, and you won’t catch them recording goofy attempts at flamenco or reggae the way the Pogues would sometimes do.
The Murphys, then, are a one-trick punk band, but one-trick punk bands almost never last this long, at least not with all their power intact. In interviews, the Murphys have been talking about Signed And Sealed In Blood as a back-to-basics party album. (Its predecessor, 2001’s Going Out In Style, was apparently a concept album, something I’m only figuring out now.) And judging by this, every Murphys album should be a back-to-basics party album, since the locomotive bleary screaming never lets up and never stops being fun until the album ends.
Look, I’m fully expecting this Album Of The Week pick to be as well-received as the time I gave it to Miranda Lambert. Bands like the Murphys, who do one extremely simplistic thing very well forever, are not supposed to be on discerning fans’ radar. They’re supposed to be punchlines. But fuck that: Few bands ever manage to be good at one thing, let alone great. The Murphys have been great at one thing forever. And anyway, it’s the first Tuesday since New Years Day, nobody is releasing new music this week, and you might as well give the thing a shot. If you can manage not to resist it, you might find one ridiculously fun album waiting for you.
Signed And Sealed In Blood is out now on the band’s own Born & Bred label. Stream it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Stereogum contributor James Jackson Toth’s latest as Wooden Wand, Blood Oaths Of The New Blues.
• Broadcast’s Goblin-esque score for the psychological thriller Berberian Sound Studio.
• Colin Stetson and Mats Gustafsson’s collaborative space-jazz throwdown Stones.
• Avant-garde Cleveland pioneers Pere Ubu’s Lady From Shanghai.
• Manchester band Dutch Uncles’ idiosyncratic psych-pop LP Out Of Touch In The Wild.
• A compilation of songs from the first season of Girls.