Bring out the bagpipes, strain your vocal chords and grab a hold of those growlingly-embittered lyrics. The most Irish-inspired corner of Boston (and that’s saying something) have ridden on in for another feisty ode to ‘Dirty Old Town’, or – as the cynics would have it – tracks about one place applied to another (Ewan MacColl’s original, for what it’s worth, was about Salford, near Manchester). When it comes to Dropkick Murphys, you’ve probably not only got the gist things, but already mentally filed them away at one extreme or the other. On the one hand, this is arguably the most pulsating modern re-imagining of something vaguely in touch with Irish musical traditions. Then again, there’s an air of the American-accented visitor departing Gardiner Street’s hostels for the first time, nodding to a loose, century-old heritage and declaring themselves ‘Irish’ to everyone in sight.
Fall where you like on what will always be Dropkick Murphys biggest issue in Ireland – it only takes a track or two to learn Signed & Sealed In Blood isn’t about to change any minds – but the Bostonian’s eighth studio release has every ounce of the frenzied trad-hybrid assault that grabbed at so many in the first place. ‘Don’t Tear Us Apart’ is a melodic highlight, one of those raucous, repetitive chorus lines that fosters a vague unity, ambiguous enough to associate as you see fit, but potent enough to incite. ‘End of the Night’ flits between the story of a messy one and a lovingly constructed series of micro-tales, all cleverly familiar lyrics, while opener ‘The Boys Are Back’ (Thin Lizzy link in name only) is a chant-along piece of chaos that’s bound to add to that intense live set up. It’s drink fuelled, it’s insanely energetic and there’s barely a symbolic trick missed.
In amongst it all, there are some seriously bizarre asides. ‘Out Of Our Heads’ sees Dropkicks reinvented as a one-track-only country-rock band, with depressingly tame consequences and weak verses (the choruses kick off messily as usual). ‘The Seasons Upon Us’ is a still more silly attempt at punk-rock Christmas, dropped in mid-album in a way that allows its daftly kitsch lyrics to disrupt the chest-bashing flow, and is bound to annoy in a few months. Still, after exhausting The Pogues and Chris Rea, it’ll lighten the cheesy Christmas-jingle load.
What the Dropkick Murphys continue to pull off above all else, though, is a sense of fun. For all Signed & Sealed In Blood’s flaws, it’s still an easy album to love, wedged with intoxicating energy and strangely endearing anger. There’s nothing here that’s about to live up to Ireland rugby’s latest unofficial theme tune ‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’, but with a couple of odd exceptions, the memorable ability to wedge in references to anything from religion to the famine in a way your averaged Irishman might find clichéd turns out to be an asset. Most Irish residents could never exhibit such an unabated, cynicism-free love-in; we’re just too close to the harder realities. As long as the Murphys do it for us, putting doubts aside offers entry to one hell of a party.