Flogging Molly – ‘Life Is Good’

By Leo Troy

Step into a modern pub and archetypes are likely to await you: the boozed-up Fred Perry fanboy fiddling with the pinball machine, the off-duty policewoman slumped by the pool table and the motley gang of withered regulars perched at the bar. Amongst the latter is usually a slender old man with an iron liver and questionable facial hair, a past bastion of good times lost in successive pints of real ale and futile political debates with the uninterested bartender. With their first album in six years ‘Life Is Good,’ Celtic punks Flogging Molly have become the musical equivalent of that guy. Time has thrown them into a world on the brink of VR, where war stories induce yawns next to Netflix shows and fidget spinners and once beloved musical quirks are drowned out by the inoffensive whir of a million Josh Franceschi tribute acts. Despite the occasional flash of brilliance, ‘Life Is Good’ shows some of this passive sub-Radio 2 nonsense has rubbed off on them, a fact that no amount of fiery political weight can disguise.

Case in point: opener ‘There’s Nothing Left Pt. 1’ declares that “the devil has spoke and he’s not very bright,” a scathing reference to America’s Calippo-in-chief that seems impossibly tame set to what is basically a diddly-diddly cover of the Game Of Thrones theme. Elsewhere the vague yet rousing call to arms of banjo-led single ‘Reptiles (We Woke Up)’ is hampered by instrumentation not unlike a discount Corrs. For the most part the band have scrapped their lairy charm and dove headfirst into no-nonsense Irish folk. Newfound maturity may be the reason, but there’s a conflict between the songwriting and its presentation that often doesn’t work, along with a lack of the loveable darkness that made the band so vital in the first place. Occasionally they get it right: ‘Hope’ is an undisputed pint-swinging anthem that ranks among the band’s best ever songs, while ‘Until We Meet Again’ is a heartfelt sign-off reminiscent of Steve Earle, but most of ‘Life Is Good’ wouldn’t sound out of place at a sandal-footed weekend retreat for investment bankers. It’s a docile version of a truly brilliant band that only works when its having fun.

Regardless, the fun arrives with a right hook. Roaring ode to unstoppable boxing legend ‘The Hand Of John L. Sullivan’ sounds like a bar fight, only letting up pace for a waltzing middle eight that begs for shots of Jameson’s and a pub-wide singalong, while ‘Crushed (Hostile Nations)’ reprises the theatrics of frontman Dave King’s stint as vocalist of ’80s metallers Fastway, stomping and kicking like a hellish episode of Riverdance. The vocal flow of penultimate track ‘The Bride Wore Black’ even echoes Davey Havock from AFI, pulsing like an ‘Art Of Drowning’ classic played by the community folk club of a small village. Essentially ‘Life Is Good’ works best when the band are enjoying themselves, a quality that strangely coincides with less political lyrics.

Still, Flogging Molly are a rare band. They only have one or two genre peers at their level, which means they’re important. If you want to hear Celtic punk, the odds are one in three that they’ll be your introduction. Perhaps ’Life Is Good’ could work for people coming in through the folkier side: those with too many tweed jackets and a comprehensive Joan Baez Spotify playlist. Maybe anyone into punk should opt for earlier releases like ‘Drunken Lullabies’ or even 2011’s ‘Speed Of Darkness.’ Then again, despite a tamer approach there’s clearly some balls on display. Maybe – just maybe – this is simply a detour and that withered old drunk with an iron liver and questionable facial hair still has a fire in his belly. Only time will tell.

LEO TROY

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