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.

Comments (33)
  1. you’ve made this out to sound like the Flockavelli of Celtic punk, I’m sold

  2. When I saw this on the home page, I was all ready to fling shit (I already did when you posted the album stream). And then I read the first paragraph, and got lost in my own memories.

    I grew up a son of second generation Irish immigrants, except instead of growing up in Boston or Lowell like my parents, I was stuck in North Carolina where everyone is Scotch-Irish but like 10 generations back. I sought out and clung to bands like Dropkick and the Pogues and Flogging Molly and The Tossers and the Mahones. By college, I was that guy that got pissed on whiskey and started yelling lyrics from The Fields of Athenry to no-one in particular.

    And then I “grew up,” realized that Dropkick and Molly weren’t gonna release anything different and exciting, and all but let go. I still love the Pogues, but I’ve refused to give the Murphys a chance in a long time. I still haven’t fully listened to this album, but I promise I’ll give it a whirl tonight.

  3. I find it refreshing that you guys still cover some of the longtime punkers like Dropkick Murphys and Rancid. I always look forward to their releases even though many people just pass them off as gimmicks nowadays.

  4. I would have just picked an album from next week for this week, seeing as that there are a couple of good ones coming out on 1/15 who won’t get due notice.

    I hate the Dropkick Murpys. As a Massachusetts native, a lot of us who aren’t part of the Irish / Bostonian-loving, Red Sox Nation bar crawling culture that permeates the state look at the Murphys as a punch line in our music scene. While the Western half is boring and quiet, our punk music is at least of good quality (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, the start of the Pixies and today’s modern scene of California X, Potty Mouth and Speedy Ortiz.)

    It’s too easy to make fun of this, especially when the last paragraph aknowledging it will garner a Miranda-like response already doing so for us. I guess my realization here is that Tom is transitioning from a once fresh-eared music scribe into one who is not only a vet, but one also easing into his “Yes, I really, really am a dad” days, still trying to cling onto his punk years unbeknownst to him that those which he clings to aren’t even the slightest bit important to the culture’s tapestry.

    On a day where new singles from Touche Amore and Iceage have either gone unnoticed and undeterred by Tom, this is a true shame.

    Impeach Breihan, more Nelson, please.

    • This is literally the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me (though wildly misguided). Thanks Michael_! Just for you, I’ll write about Iceage if Tom doesn’t want to do that one.

      • (Wildly misguided = 1. the criticism of Tom in general, and 2. the call for me to do Tom’s job, the abstract thought of which is currently giving me a panic attack.)

      • He did write about them, but he also once told me he didn’t get Iceage last year, and his lack of enthusiasm over their new song could be read between the lines knowing that. It’s an awesome song, and I would have rather someone whose heart was in it take the reigns on it than someone slapping it up there just for content.

        I don’t mean this to say Tom is bad at what he does. It’s just that he’s conquered most all realms of the writing process. I question whether or not he’s hungry anymore, and it’s ATOW entries like this that make me think this. I want to read stuff by someone who has something to prove or to challenge, and not by throwing low-tier punk at its readers and trying to convince them there’s substance in there somewhere and we’re just too dumb and narrow-minded not to know it.

        • But that’s the biggest challenge!

          • No, man. It’s not. It’s making a challenge out of something that really isn’t. Sorry dude, but you’re like Y2K’s unsuccessful last run being shoved out the door by a Zig-zag, or the Miz as a babyface — It just doesn’t work.

          • Really? Really? I’m like the Miz going babyface. Really.

            No but actually, a couple of points here:

            • I’m not sure you necessarily get this, but there’s no such thing as objective taste. Iceage have always sounded to me like Petulant Teenage Wire, and it pissed me off two years ago when every major publication was making them out to be the future of hardcore. This new Iceage song, I think, is pretty good, better than anything off the first album, but it’s still not moving me the same way that some of these Murphys songs move me. Their sound is still thin and emaciated and scratchy. It’s possible that 25-year-old me would’ve raged way more passionately against them, but this isn’t a case of me disassociating from everything that’s new and important because I’m old and have kids. It’s a case of me liking something else, and sticking with what I like.

            • To me, importance “to the culture’s tapestry” certainly isn’t an irrelevant concern, but it’s way, way less important than the question of whether I like it.

            • I could be wrong here, but your Dropkick Murphys objections seem to have more to do with their cultural positioning, and with their fans, than the actual music they’re making. I went through the same thing, for years and years, with the Grateful Dead, before realizing that I was being an idiot. If you start disregarding music because you don’t like the music’s fans or whatever, you’re going to miss out on SO MUCH good stuff.

          • You’re right, sire, I don’t necessarily get this. I must be fucking incompetent or something, and not privy to the laws of the indie blog Illuminati.

            Just let M. Nelson write the Iceage content from now on. There’s no point to putting content out there if the bias has already been determined.

          • And yes, you are very wrong with your last point. I don’t negate a musician or band if I’m not aware of how they operate. Man, I don’t even know how many Dropkick Murphy shows I’ve lived through during my high school and college years, whether it be intentional or not. They played every Warped Tour I went to during high school, they played my college’s free spring concerts and I got dragged to a few of their St. Patty’s Day shows before they became a trendy thing. I’ve given a few of their albums a try, and what does absolutely nothing for me is the exclusivity of it — The Irish heroics of it all. For you, it’s easy because you’re Irish. I just can’t relate to any of it. I don’t have a single drop of Irish blood / pride in me, and I never got the entire “Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” shtick that happens every year. It’s such a lame concept.

          • I want to interject here if only because I’m also a Northern New England guy, happen to be Irish, happen to be a Red Sox fan, and happen to not particularly like the Dropkick Murphys.

            Without question, Michael_, that last response belies if not outright confirms the fact that the cultural and regional elements of the band are what offend you most. I’m not implying you’re fooling yourself into not liking the music, it certainly sounds like you’ve given it plenty of fair shakes, but it’s frustrating to see a paragraph that begins with a denial and then says the opposite.

          • My argument against them isn’t really so much because of that point, but rather that Tom’s argument for them is. He himself apparently can’t even see that the reason he holds this album in such regard is because of his cultural connection to the band. For heaven’s sakes, he spends the first half of this post reminiscing about his journey to Belfast and St. Patrick’s Day celebratory nostalgia. And then he has the audacity to go and tell me I’m doing it wrong.

    • Tom is willing to post about music that isn’t the normal fare of this audience, and I think that’s awesome, even if sometimes I don’t like that stuff either. Taking people out of their comfort zones is pretty great as long as he’s being honest about his opinions about this stuff (which he is, why else would you risk it). It seems like you have really personal reasons for hating the Dropkicks, just like he has personal reasons for liking them. I would like more Michael Nelson, not at the expense of Tom, though.

      I actually followed him here from Out The Trunk and owe him for my mixtape rap obsession though, so I’m a little biased.

      • Let’s call this one for what it really is: A bad release week with nothing else really available or flat out too obscure to drive traffic into one of the site’s typically high-commented feature installments. So Tom hands Let’s! Go! Murphys! *clap* *clap* *clap* a cheap win which wouldn’t happen if the release week were any stronger, people check in to see what he has to say just because this is the almighty indie blog powerhouse Stereogum and how dare they mention some scrappy Irish punk band who frequents the Warped Tour and Red Sox rallies, and in the end, he didn’t just piss out five paragraphs and put all that thought into the words so that two Mats Gustafsson fans who StumbledUpon it here by accident could read it.

        But instead, some of you are applauding his efforts for standing by his support of taking the road less traveled when really it was the only road to go down.

        • if it was the only road, why would you be complaining about it. It’s his choice to pick an album, and he could’ve picked a few others, I mean there is a list down at the end. He chose one, and he argued for it in a sincere way, and that’s how it should be.

          • The list down at the end, as I stated, wouldn’t create as many traffic hits. In a choice between making a weak, forced choice or not making a choice at all, go with the latter instead of trying to come off as the martyr for independent thought music journalism.

          • except if it was a weak, forced choice, he would’ve written a weak, forced article. if you read this, I’d say that it seems like he cares about this band and actually wants us reader to re-think our opinions. It’s always good to give music a second chance, even you just end up feeling the same way about it.

          • It’s an Irish music pride review, and that’s generally a typical Murphy’s fan reason as to why they love them in a nutshell. I can’t relate to any of that seeing as I’m not Irish, don’t try to fake it on any St. Patrick’s Day, never understood why any nationality needs to overtalk the hundreds of others that reside here in America, nor would I ever wish to trade in my own identity just to be part of a band’s gimmick. Plus, the Dropkick Murphys are homophobes (and I don’t care if he forcibly apologized, because in this day in age, everyone should know better) so fuck them: http://www.punknews.org/article/46732/controversy-erupts-around-al-barrs-punk-and-disorderly-promo-video

        • You’re giving short shrift to the Wooden Wand album. It’s phenomenal.

    • Maybe Lucy was right; of all the dudes who need to chill out in the world, you’re the dude who needs to chiil out-est.

  5. Forget what you heard. The album of the week is Wooden Wand’s.

  6. Tom, in all sincerity, you are my favorite writer on this site, one of my favorite music writers in general. Neva lose confidence. Underscores be underscores

    Dick Litman

  7. “I’m fully expecting this Album Of The Week pick to be as well-received as the time I gave it to Miranda Lambert.” Yup – I liked that album, and I like this one too.

  8. i listened to the first four or five songs and liked them because i don’t hate pop punk and they were all catchy and stand up to earlier material for the most part, but for some reason i just had to stop there. it wasn’t because it was lame or i felt guilty for not giving that dirty projectors record a single spin last year, but probably for knowing that the warrior’s code was their breakthrough for good reason: this record flip flops between standard guitar punk+bagpipes and mandolin+flute so much that it becomes quickly apparent they’re trying to strike the same chord i’m shipping up tot boston did, and they never really do here.

    but please do not stop the throwback pop punk coverage you guys have been recently putting forth, because i was getting really sick of having to check rancid’s wikipedia page every couple months to see what they were up to.

  9. You’ve made me a very happy bunny with this post. I can already tell “Signed and Sealed” is going to be one of my top albums of 2013. Just refreshing, fist-pumping, kickass tunes. I was coincidentally listening to it right before I read this article. :)

  10. I always preferred Flogging Molly.

  11. At least they’re entertaining.

  12. not a fan of frat-punk

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