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November 15, 1999

True punk is back

By Joe Wilbur

The Dropkick Murphys are easily the most successful  Boston
punk band in a decade. Their anti-ska, heavy guitar
hardcore/revivalist punk sound and stridently working class,
socially conscious lyrics conjure up early Clash and remind
you that, though  we have, in the last decade, been barraged 
by more Offspring /Green Day style California- pop-punk than
you can shake an MTV Video Music Award at, this is what
Punk is SUPPOSED to be all about.

On their first full length album, "Do Or Die" (Hellcat, 1997)
DMK established themselves as blue collar Irish- American
Boston boys who know their roots -- both musically and
culturally.

Produced by Rancid's Lars Fredrikson, the album offered
acoustic ballads, bagpipes, flutes and re-workings of traditional
Irish drinking songs woven into an early- hardcore punk
foundation.

Matt McClogan's vocal style -- not a growl but a hearty,
Boston tinged howl, was raw but not unlistenable -- at times
even warm and always a wonderful compliment to the
material. 

Bassist/songwriter Ken Casey penned "Boys on The Docks," a
heartwarming pub singalong about his grandfather, who had
been instrumental in organizing Boston's dock workers' union
during the Depression back to back with the hardcore anthem
"Fightstarter Karaoke."

In short, the Murphys' debut was a godsend, a beautiful return
to Punk as it was intended: sincere, urgent, socially conscious,
infectious.

A constant theme of that album, and seemingly one inexorably
tied to the Murphys themselves, was friendship, brotherhood, a
bond evolved through years of dedication to one another and
their scene.

That may be why I was so surprised to learn that, at some
point before the recent Vans sponsored Warped Tour and the
recording of their new album, "The Gang's All Here" (Hellcat),
the group split with vocalist Matt McClogan. While the split
was somewhat shrouded in mystery, DMK released a statement
saying that Matt no longer felt that he could, in good
conscience, continue with the band and that the band is "part
of a movement that Matt no longer feels a part of."

Sounds suspiciously as though McClogan didn't want to sell
out, though the consensus among fans seems to be that he
couldn't handle the touring. Whatever the reason - the Gang's
All New.

Replacing McClogan on the new album is Al Barr, the heavily
tattooed, high octane vocalist formerly of Boston's The
Bruisers. Barr's vocal style is much more hardcore -- more a
growl than McClogan's, but, again, not unpleasant. He lacks
the Boston accent that was half the Murphys' charm and
certainly a trademark, but he does do wonderful things with
what he has.

Still, I was a bit thrown off and had, even after one album,
become a bit attached to the old lineup. I popped in the new
album hesitantly ... and was pleasantly surprised.

"The Gang's All Here" expands on "Do Or Die" -- going in a
more punk and less hardcore direction.

While the Murphys admit to trying to attract a wider audience,
they've far from sold their souls for rock and roll.

Although I initially found myself a bit thrown by the new
sound, the album grew on me like a fungus.

"Ten Years of Service," which includes the socialist musings
"Who's gonna save us from this lonely picket line?" and "The
status of our future in both past and present time/ is relegated
to member of a higher class than mine" is much catchier than
it sounds and the somewhat controversial "Pipe Bomb on
Landsdowne" is an old school Boston hardcore assault on the
city's drug addled rave culture.

Also offered are the Murphys' punked out arrangements of the
traditional songs   "Amazing Grace" and "The Fighting 69th."

All in all a very satisfying album from a band on its way up
who have clearly already conquered those most dreaded
musical states -- states which have killed more punk bands
than bad contracts and heroin combined: change and growth.
 

 


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