Signed and Sealed in Blood proves Dropkick Murphys Boston-cum-Ireland punk aesthetic still runs deep
You’ll always be here with me
Even if you’re gone
You’ll always have my love
Your memory will live on
Though they once tried to whitewash the Irish music of their childhood from their blend of Boston-bred punk-rock fury, the stamp of their heritage remains indelible as the rose tattoo of which they sing on the third track off Signed and Sealed in Blood. “It dawned on us that Irish music was a bigger influence on all of us than we’d realized,” Ken Casey told the Houston Chronicle in 2011. “Growing up in Boston, every time you went to a wedding or a wake or your grandparents’ house, you heard that music. I went through a phase of hating it just because it’s what my (folks) listened to.”
Thank God the band figured out that building upon one’s influences isn’t the same as simply wallowing in them. They’ve built upon the raw furious edges of classic Irish barroom singalongs, merging them with the blistering pace and unmistakeable brashness of the UK punk scene in the mid-70’s. And while previous albums have gone to that well with varying levels of success, Signed and Sealed in Blood brings the intensity of a live show to the recordings, making this a listening experience as fresh as if we’re lifting a pint as they laid tracks in the recording studio.
“Jimmy Collins’ Wake” serves as the album’s central rave-up, a brash, bold and twisted example of what their brand of “Celtic punk” can accomplish in three minutes of baseball-obsessed glory. Around its core they build their own story through an album of songs which celebrate their heritage and that of the listeners who brought them long-term success in the first place, creating an album which bears all the marks their youthful rebellion tried and failed to extinguish.
These songs are the strongest the band has brought to one place since their earliest work for Hellcat Records, proving that being on a major label hasn’t dulled their willingness to push their listeners to the limit. “The Battle Rages On” and “Rose Tattoo” have pop-worthy hooks which stand up even better now that radio audiences have proven receptive to bands like Mumford and Sons. Though this is no folk revival, there’s a great deal to be said for Dropkick Murphys’ ability to blend traditional Irish folk structures with the punk-rock aesthetic of bands as varied as the Pogues, AC/DC or the Clash, through it all maintaining their own well-earned reputation as Boston’s most challenging working band.
Fans already on the bandwagon will love this album, chock full of songs ready to become classics in their own right. Those who haven’t already been won over will find this album to be a revelation. That the band could finally achieve its mainstream breakthrough, via their best songs and without sacrificing any of their hard-fought credibility, is worth loudly cheering. This is the exciting shot across the bow for which we’ve all been praying. Let the imitators struggle to keep up.