Many a long-running pop punk band have been releasing underwhelming to rather pathetic material in recent years. Undoubtedly, pop punk’s heyday is long since over, leaving many torchbearers of the genre sounding rather lost in today’s musical climate. What’s more, as the band members and their original fanbases age, attempts at continuing to perform songs with the same dosage of teen angst and rebellion has led to some awkward results for certain bands, such as blink-182 on their 2016 album California, with the attempted humour on cuts like Built This Pool coming off as slightly embarrassing. The salient band that comes to mind who have pulled this off rather well is Weezer, whose last album featured much of their typical self-deprecating teenage dejection, but with a slight sense of dark humour and self-awareness that made the lyrics come off very well. However, Dropkick Murphys can’t be entirely fairly compared to the likes of blink-182 and Weezer, as their brand of pop punk is centred around celtic punk and oi! (which still irks me as a name for a genre), and in fact they aren’t typically associated with the pop punk label, but nonetheless I feel that their approach to celtic punk leans rather close to pop punk, especially on their latest material. Moreover, they also suffer from the unfortunate results of ageing that many pop punk bands have also seen, particularly on this new album, 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory. The lack of development in their sound has highlighted how poorly it has aged, fitting rather awkwardly into modern music culture and sounding very tired. Not only does this leave Dropkick Murphys without much in the way of a tangible musical identity, it leaves the 11 songs on this new release sounding stiff and stale. Unfortunately, one of the most positive words I can come up with for this record is rudimentary. At the best of times, 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory comes off as some run-of-the-mill celtic punk and, without a name put to it, I couldn’t see it making much of an impact in the genre at all, let alone beyond. The fact, therefore, that this album comes courtesy of one of celtic punk’s most relevant bands does not bode well for the future of the genre.
The Lonesome Boatman functions as an opener for a Dropkick Murphys record should. The main melody is memorable enough, which is convenient seeing as it’s repeated for the entirety of the track’s runtime. The “woah oh oh” vocals that take over the melody after the more typically celtic intro are trite but nonetheless fitting for the band. I can’t say that this introductory instrumental feels entirely necessary, but I can see that it was perhaps included to get fans pumped up for the rest of the record, and I could see it being used as an introduction to live performances to the same effect, particularly with the vocals that chant the melody. The first full song on the record, Rebels With a Cause, is as banal as the title would suggest, and lacks any clear celtic influence, maybe with the exception of the faint acoustic guitar that plays along with the electric somewhere in the background of the mix. Unfortunately, the lyrics also suffer from much of the middle-aged awkwardness that I spoke about in the introduction to this review. 47-year-old Ken Casey’s lyrics about teenage rebellion performed in his overly-affected voice don’t go down well, and as expected, leave the track feeling rather bland. In fact, not much else can be said for the lyrics on the majority of this record, but there are some significant low-points, such as on Kicked to the Curb, a typical song concerning a man who spent all of his money on a woman who ultimately left him for someone else. Topics that are routinely covered in songs don’t always come across as tiresome, but resorting to lines so simple that I can’t help but question the time (or lack thereof) that was spent on them (“I ain’t got no honey/She took all my money”) doesn’t go over well. Songs like First Class Loser and Paying My Way feature such a similar strand of triteness that I feel I would be repeating myself if I were to properly dissect the lyrics to these cuts.
In case the banality of this record had not made itself evident eight tracks in, the ninth cut on the album is a depressingly messy rendition of the show tune classic and Liverpool FC anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. What makes this track stand out as being all-the-more disheartening is the fact that it’s one of the few cuts to make it onto 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory that features any distinct celtic flavour, and even these elements of the tune don’t go down well. The performance and the mixing make the cut sound noticeably cluttered, resulting in components like the tin whistle and the sports stadium chanting (which is performed with a debatable level of tunefulness, I might add) rather hard to stomach. Perhaps this incredibly questionable cover could have been excused were it a bonus track on iTunes, but the fact that it made the final cut suggests to me that the band were really struggling for ideas to push the record’s duration past the 30-minute marker.
I find it regrettable that such a big name in celtic punk would come out with an album like 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory as it foreshadows bad things for the future of the genre, or rather it makes me contemplate whether or not the genre has long since run its course and this is what remains. This album is really lacking in any discernible personality, memorable melodies or lyrics that exceed being merely passable. The approach to this album’s celtic-influence is somewhat superficial, typically resorting to simply using instruments that are associated with Irish music and hoping that that’s enough to satisfy the listener. As already stated, the best parts of this record are simply tolerable (the lead single, Blood, for instance doesn’t have as many major points for objection), whilst the lowest points can be a bit hard to get through, leaving this record as a bit of a directionless jumble of rehashed ideas that don’t fare so well in 2017. Ultimately, Dropkick Murphys will have to massively reconsider and rework their sound if they are to put out a relevant album in the future.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4/10