With drums, strings and whistles heralding the arrival of ‘The Lonesome Boatman’, soon giving way to crushing distorted guitars and gang vocals, Boston’s Dropkick Murphys set the scene for ‘11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory’, their ninth album. Borne out of recent tragedies and the band’s maturity after being a band for twenty years, the Dropkicks are trying to age gracefully whilst still appealing to the new crop of punk rock fans that are springing up.
They’ve been a band for twenty years, and probably have more yesterdays than tomorrows in the bank, as ‘Sandlot’s nostalgia for younger days shows. But there’s always been a sense of community with the Dropkick Murphys, and they make sure to reaffirm the common links in the punk rock scene on ‘Rebels With A Cause’, as singers Al Barr and Ken Case call on their peers not to be “angry at the kids, be angry at the greed!”
Rallying around the sense of heart and kinship found in music provides the Dropkicks with the message they need to take to as many people as possible. This is the band’s first album since the Boston Marathon bombings in April of 2013, a moment that shook the entire Boston community to its knees. Yet the band did what they could to support the victims after the disaster: visiting hospitals, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and recording a charity EP with Bruce Springsteen. Perhaps that’s why some of the songs on this album have a much slower, more reflective pace than previous offerings, especially on the heavily Springsteen influenced ‘Paying My Way’ and lead single ‘Blood’. This heartwarming folk-punk anthem flies in the defiance of those who would stand to hurt their communities; with “if you want blood, we’ll give you some,” it’s a rallying cry for unity.
If this all sounds a bit heavy, don’t worry. The Dropkicks have always had a sense of humour to go along with their communal chants and ‘First Class Loser’ is another song that’ll tease a few laughs out of the listener, about “the type of guy you’d cross six lanes of traffic to avoid” who just seems to stick around forever, parking in handicapped spaces, just being rude, obnoxious or lazy.
Alongside self-deprecating elegy ‘Kicked To The Curb,’ it goes a long way in injecting a sense of levity on an album that deals with some hefty subject matter, especially as it moves towards the album’s emotional centrepiece, ‘4-15-13’. As Barr reels off a list of professions who were, on that day, “just trying to make our way”, it becomes a fitting tribute to those who died, eulogising not only those who are “gone but not forgotten,” but also the innocence of the city. By rising to the challenge of trying to turn this tragedy into art, Dropkick Murphys manage to turn pain into glory.
With a bar-room brawl cover of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, the scrappy Boston punks take heartache and find strength in it. Melancholy yet triumphant, tragic but optimistic, ‘11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory’ is an album brimming with life, energy and camaraderie. It’s not easy to make such a life affirming record after going through such loss. Trust the Dropkicks to pull it off.