If the true ethos of punk rock is nailing out songs of loved ones and hard times with enough emotion spread out to fill an entire stadium while being hard as nails at the same time, well Dropkick Murphys have had it sorted for quite some time now. Seventeen years and seven albums down the line, they're the kings of Boston's music scene and have made the principles of Celtic rock a worldwide phenomenon. Much more than The Pogues have managed. (Controversial, I know.) There really isn't anyone that I've ever heard lay out a disliking for them. And maybe it's encouraged them to keep up the good standard, as you can easily hear on eighth album Signed and Sealed in Blood.
With 2011's Going Out in Style, the band were on much more of a mission, sort of in a bid to finally allow everyone to know who they are and what they stand for. And if you missed the opportunity to to hear that, what were you thinking? If you heard the masterclass of the album, you realise the band's ability to weave story-lines together in their songs, while upholding an anthemic uplifting charm. But while that album was literally a story-telling album about a fictional character named Cornelius Larkin and his tales of family folklore and his experiences of immigrating from Ireland to America, a tale not dissimilar to the band's own, Signed and Sealed in Blood is so much more an album made in the way that all best punk albums are made. Tunes made out of jamming, having fun and just telling basic life stories with a giant grin on each member's face.
Straight from the picturesque cluster of accordion, bagpipes and guitars both acoustic and feedback drenching electric that opens the album on The Boys Are Back, you know fine that this isn't going to be an album that will make you want to cut wrists at the end of the day. What? And as the song continues with a rousing array of energetic gang vocals and attractive riffs that make up the stuff of pure punk rock euphoria. As you could probably guess this makes up the main basis of the album, with Burn's restless charge of distortion and guitar work that doesn't allow the feet of listeners to stay still and the rough and tumble melodies of The Battle Rages On, which is guaranteed to raise hands and promote whiplash.
As already established in this album, it wouldn't be a Dropkick Murphys release without the use of extra Celtic instrumentation to establish the band's proud heritage. Prisoner Song nails the use of such instruments with Josh Wallace and Jeff DaRosa's tin whistle and banjo duo makes up wonderful riverdance rhythms that will make you want to pretend you're Michael Flatley while still embracing the band's hard rocking performance through Matt Kelly's powerhouse drumbeats and the battered blue collar punk melodies of Ken Casey and Al Barr.
It's through the band's lead vocalists that allows so much emotion to effortlessly pour out. Rose Tattoo and Jimmy Collin's Wake achieves the effect of creating a dusty room in which the band are going to tell you stories of life and you are going to listen and drink up because you know for certain that the stories will be amazing. And in the band's backing of adorable riffs found on Don't Tear Us Apart and the crunching My Hero, a sense of gentle warmth can be heard through distorted blasts of guitar alone. Even The Season's Upon Us, possibly the earliest Christmas song of 2013 has a lot of heart behind it, even though the band essentially talk about how much they hate the festive season.
And by the time the Irish bar in Boston has closed and you're staggering along to the outro of End of the Night with your best friends, you realise that evidently, the Dropkick Murphys have nailed it once more with Signed and Sealed in Blood. All the ingredients for a great punk album are there in the wide selection of rousing sing-along anthems, massive choruses, a clear identity of who the band are and where they're from and big grins all around. After I found myself realising that maybe punk music like this might be my favourite form of music to listen to last year, it's obvious how vital and substantial Dropkick Murphys really are, and how essential it still is to base albums upon jamming, having fun and pouring out the best of emotion in a way that a room of people can relate and sing along to. The band has had punk sorted out for some time now. And this has to keep up the long reign of three chord wonder.
Dropkick Murphys' Signed and Sealed in Blood is out now via V2 Muisc. The band will tour the UK next week with Crowns and Teenage Bottlerocket.