There’s an inherent dichotomy to the Dropkick Murphys, between the emotions the band’s sound naturally conjures, and the actual artistic aspirations the band seems to have. Their “celtic punk” style tends to be so raucous and energetic that it’s easy to get swept away in its theatrics. It sounds like drinking music, but 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory betrays an long-running ambition to write songs about more pressing, and more serious subject matter. They are a very political band, and sometimes their sound and scope don’t blend quite the way they should.
I’m Shipping Up to Boston is still the Dropkick Murphy’s biggest hit, and their latest album shows few signs of any effort to deviate from it’s formula. Some of the tracks are slower and sadder, but they are all still built from the same blocks of shouted, football-chant-esque lyrics, crunchy AC/DC guitar, accordion, and bagpipes. It’s a fun, invigorating combination, although it’s also quite samey, especially considering the band’s style has barely evolved in a decade. It remains fantastic that the band still embraces Irish melodicism so openly, but they’ve reached a point at which it seems like they need to progress into something a little more complex.
Lyrically, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory aspires for something somewhat grander than its unimaginative sonics suggest. Casting off the concept-album trappings of their last release, the new record is a series of songs about “the issues”, which each track corresponding to a different cause the band is evidently passionate about. Rebels Without a Cause is about children abandoned by the social services system, 4-15-13 is about the aftermath of the Boston Bombing, and a cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel is dedicated to people battling opiate addictions. All of these tracks feel like the Dropkick Murphys are straining for importance, but their lyricism is either too on the nose, or too general and vague to be successful. This is serious subject matter which deserves mature, subtle treatment, which is not what it receives here.
11 Stories of Pain & Glory is an entertaining record, but it comes after a string of similarly entertaining records from the Dropkick Murphys. Their righteous causes are diluted by clumsy lyricism, and the energy of their sound is the same as many of their previous records. It’s not a bad album, by any means, but it’s an unexceptional one, and will likely fade into the bands discography in the coming years.