Boston-area Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys are back in 2017 with their 9th studio album and first in 4 years, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory. 11 Short Stories follows up on 2013’s Signed and Sealed in Blood, and is a bit different than previous albums in that it’s not as…..punk. 11 Short Stories is definitely a little more mellow in the sense that there are several slower songs on this album and on previous studio efforts, as the band incorporates more Celtic folk elements and less in-your-face punk.
I’ve been a fan of Dropkick Murphys for what seems like forever, at least since 2001’s Sing Loud, Sing Proud!, and 11 Short Stories represents a continued change for the band that began with Going Out In Style. Gone are the days of songs like Flannigan’s Ball, Fields of Athenry and Worker’s Song, and in are songs like Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced, End of the Night and Broken Hymns. None of those are bad songs, but the latter two do show how the band has evolved after close to two decades from making Irish fightin’ songs and has started making songs about happiness and good times with good people.
So, to that token, let’s get this review started, shall we? I’ll completely skip over the album’s opening, instrumental track The Lonesome Boatman, because it is what it is. An instrumental lead-in to the good stuff that brings us right into Rebels Without A Cause. Rebels Without A Cause is one of those up-tempo songs Dropkick Murphys are known for, a style of Celtic punk that has made them so good for so long and earned them a devoted collection of fans. So the whole thing kicks off with Rebels and after about 30 seconds it became my favorite song on the album. It’s the kind of song you blast in the car with the windows down, it’s that good and a very fun song to sing along to.
But that’s where the fast-paced stuff ends, really, and the other 9 songs slow down quite a bit, with the exception of I Had A Hat the rest of 11 Short Stories is pretty mellow, and it’s hard to decipher what exactly some of the songs are about. I didn’t have that problem with Signed and Sealed in Blood, but this album’s quite different from past albums. The only song that’s really obvious is 4-15-13, which is the date of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Obviously, 4-15-13 is about the people of Boston and the Patriot’s Day bombing that killed 3 and injured over 260. It’s a song about a tragic and sad event that also spins a positive vibe – as the song says, “we’re all just people tryin’ to get along”
And then there’s the album’s final track, the sing-along-worthy bar song Until The Next Time, that reminds me of End of the Night from Signed and Sealed in Blood in the sense that both are instant classic bar songs about a group of people just hanging out until last call when it’s time to fold up the tents and go home. It’s hard not to love a song like this. I still love End of the Night and I love Until The Next Time just as much, there’s nothing to dislike about it.
Clearly I’ve skipped around quite a bit. All 11 Short Stories are solid; there’s Kicked To The Curb, a song about being dumped that I think everyone can relate to. There’s You’ll Never Walk Alone, Blood, Sandlot and First Class Loser – a song about that one “friend” everyone secretly hates and goes out of their way to avoid. Cmon, we all know a guy like that, don’t we? At the end of the day, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is what it is, though. It’s a new Dropkick Murphys album that continues a change in direction of sorts for the band.
I get that music changes as a band gets older and after nearly 20 years, it’s hard to deny they’re getting older and have changed with the times, but I was really hoping Dropkick Murphys would go back to their roots for this one. Punk as a genre is fading pretty quickly, and Celtic punk is almost nonexistent outside of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys these days, but after a second consecutive not-so-punk album, I’m wondering whether I can even call DKM a punk band anymore. It’s now been 6 years since Going Out in Style, the band’s first album to truly incorporate Celtic elements, and 10 years since The Meanest of Times, which was DKM’s last true punk album.
Don’t get me wrong here, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is a solid effort. I’ll always be a fan of Dropkick Murphys, and they’ll continue their success by releasing another solid album on the 6th, but I miss the days when the band was redefining what it meant to be punk. What it meant to be a Skinhead on the MBTA. The album’s great, but you’ll have to get used to it. Don’t write it off because it’s different. Times change, music changes, and this is the new Dropkick Murphys. They still kick ass. That ass kicking is just a little slower these days.