The first and most memorable hook on the new Dropkick Murphys album, “Signed and Sealed in Blood,” goes, “The boys are back, and they’re looking for trouble.” That says it all, really. The album’s only hook that you might be able to remember when the music’s shut off is a cliché line that may or may not be ripping off Thin Lizzy.
The truly sad thing about “Signed and Sealed in Blood” is what it represents, though. Dropkick Murphys are, along with Flogging Molly, the most popular artists in a genre that once showed a lot of promise: Celtic punk.
Celtic punk, the combination of Irish folk and punk rock, was first devised by The Pogues, an ’80s band formed in London. Fronted by the famously intoxicated Shane MacGowan, this group mixed their love of Celtic music with their love of punk. They were by no means a band that traditionalist punks would enjoy, nor were they a band that traditional Celtic fans would like. Rather, they were a fascinating group that true music fans might get a kick out of.
Most classic bands have a decent influence on the music scene, even if it lasts only for a short while. The Pogues weren’t so lucky. The idea of fusing these two genres may seem interesting, but it ran out of steam quickly. The Pogues themselves only managed to get a few exceptional albums out of it (most notably the nearly perfect “Rum, Sodomy & the Lash”), and other Celtic punk bands weren’t even that lucky.
This genre should be remembered as a failure that one band was talented enough to get something out of. Sadly, it can’t be dismissed as that, because it’s way more popular now than it was then. Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly both have over a million fans on Facebook, which is over ten times what The Pogues have.
And, damn, is their music boring.
Dropkick Murphys is a band that is hard to hate on. They’ve supported many causes, and the fact that they are so socially active gives their lyrics authenticity that many modern punk bands don’t have. But despite that, their music is very forgettable.
Their songs are marred by in-your-face choruses that seem to be trying desperately to hammer themselves in your head, but few of the tunes stick. Militant boot-stomping anthems are incredibly off-putting, and they’re even more repellant when the attempts at catchy hooks are so underwhelming.
Even so, “Signed and Sealed in Blood” is worse than the average Dropkick Murphys album. It doesn’t have a song on the level of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” (which is an excellent song) or “The State of Massachusetts” (which isn’t). It’s one thing to be lame, but at least include an anthem of some sort.
The highlights of this record are instead quite mild. “The Boys Are Back” opens the album with possibly the most abrasive attempt at catchiness the band has ever displayed, while “Rose Tattoo” reveals itself as a legitimately all right song if you give it more time than it deserves. The album also features a Christmas song, “The Season’s Upon Us,” that is an even bigger rip-off of The Pogues’ classic “Fairytale of New York” than you’d think (bassist Ken Casey’s desperate promise that “it’s definitely not some cheesy Christmas tune” doesn’t help the song’s lack of sincerity).
Dropkick Murphys’ biggest fault is that their main influence is Celtic punk. They seem uninterested in Irish music, and very interested in using Celtic influence to separate themselves from other left-wing punk bands. As stated earlier, the members of the band are admirable, but admirable people don’t always make interesting music. There’s little to say in this album’s defense.
Grade: C PLUS
Key Track: “Rose Tattoo.”