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.
I get some fun stuff in my email-box these days, but nothing has rocked quite as much as this song I got from French punk-rockers Mörse. “Le Bannissement” doesn’t waste any time. In 110 seconds they storm into town, trash the place, steal your woman and leave you with nothing but hard-edged thrash rattling around in your head as you hope they’ll play the song again and let you bask in it. It’s a shame to say I don’t know much about this band, but hearing songs with this much power and grit, I think that needs to change. Fast.
Candice Gordon says she’s set to release “Smoking Like the Barrel of a Gun” as an official single on July 9th, but the video’s right here to drive you wild in all its punk-infused glory, below. The song creates its own frenetic energy, propelled by Gordon’s kinetic vocals, which are their own most glorious weapon, getting the blood pumping instantly upon pressing play. The real clincher, however, is “I Haven’t Eaten In Days,” available on her site via Soundcloud, which is a stunning blend of Patti Smith and Roseanne Cash, a slow-burn piece of edgy alt-country you won’t be able to get out of your head. Forget albums, just let this woman keep writing great singles like this, and we’ll be golden! This is the definition of “must follow.”
PJ Harvey – “Let England Shake” (2011, Island/Vagrant)
Reviewer: Tony Paese
This review originally was published on Tony’s personal blog.
It is his first of what should be many reviews for “Hear! Hear!”
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Punk rocker PJ Harvey had never really impressed me. Despite essentially universal acclaim from critics on everything she has ever released, as well as a solid fan base, I would give her stuff a listen and shrug it off with the same “Eh” I give so many critically lauded records (i.e. Psychocandy, Kid A, anything released by U2…). But I decided I would give Harvey’s latest work, Let England Shake, one listen-through in the hopes that she might surprise me. And surprise me she did.
I expected to have to sift through twelve tracks of typical Harvey – aggressive, angular, guitar-heavy ballads infused with low, whisper-sung verses which are then followed by choruses that explode out of nowhere to force you into turning the volume down several notches so that your eardrums don’t break. Fortunately, that’s not at all what I heard. In fact, track number one, the title track, begins with what I think might be a xylophone. A xylophone, drums, and a guitar that is seemingly hidden away in a dimly-lit corner so as to allow some other sounds to take the spotlight for a while. Never has she sounded more refined and detail-oriented.
Harvey’s voice is also dramatically changed. A more controlled, quavering fairy-call that made her sound practically sweet compared with the forceful punk-rock bellows that punched holes through her previous records. The change lends a tone of mysticality that fits in perfectly with the instrumental changes as well as the album’s main theme.
The theme of the album is war. For some reason I kept imagining snapshots of the Revolutionary, despite repeated references to battlegrounds on English soil. The lyrics are a little gruesome at times, as per her usual, but the concept as a whole is pretty cool this time. Word-wise I think Harvey has taken a serious step forward. What truly makes this a great war record, however, is the drumming. Some tracks are marching songs (“The Words That Maketh Murder”, “The Colour of the Earth”), and I can clearly see armies chanting along and stomping to the beat. Others emulate the battle itself, frenzied and chaotic (“Bitter Branches”). Moments in tracks such as “On Battleship Hill”, where Harvey’s voice reaches a trippy, almost ethereal pitch, hearken back to ancient battlefields (this time more like the soundtrack to a Lord of the Rings movie) where soldiers wield swords in slow motion and martyrs for the good guys last just long enough to say goodbye once the battle is over.
Now it wouldn’t be PJ Harvey without some badass guitar dominating at least one track. That track is “Bitter Branches”, one of my favorites. Most reminiscent of her previous albums, the song is a lament for the wives of soldiers leaving home for war. “Young wives with white hands / wave goodbye. / Their arms as bitter branches / spreading into the world,” accompanied by the low, angular, catchy-bass-line-ish guitar (sorry about that, I really don’t know how to describe it any more eloquently than by making up that ridiculous word) that I’ve come to associate her earlier work with. The result is a powerful, heart-wrenching war ballad that still kicks some serious punk-rock ass.
Make sure to stick around for the last two tracks – they are the best. “Written On the Forehead” is a murky, swirling mix of electric guitar, spacey vocals from Harvey, and a strange chant in the background from a chorus repeating the phrase “Let it burn, let it burn, let it burn burn burn.”, while “The Colour of the Earth” features a male vocal lead which fits perfectly with the song and with the record as a whole.
The musical icing on this rock-n-roll cake is the fact that there is not one weak track. That’s pretty rare. Each tune is completely unpredictable and each keeps the listening interesting with a wide range of instruments and backing vocals. The album as a whole is a rocker, beautifully laced with sonic peculiarities and the gravities of war. My enjoyment increases with each listen, and I would love nothing more than to see it become a landmark in British rock-n-roll history. I am, at the very least, quite comfortable saying that Let England Shake is my favorite album, British or otherwise, to have been released in the year of 2011.
Head to PJ Media to check out my latest column, this time extolling the virtues of punk rock music! I normally reprint these in their entirety, but I think you’ll get more out of it by joining the discussion already raging there … more than 100 comments already!
My thesis is that if you’re looking for an entry-point as a listener to discover punk rock music and what set it apart from other genres, while proving to be such an inspiration to music from Nirvana to the Pixies, you’ll find plenty to like if you get past the stereotypes. If you think the genre’s all about noise and self-destruction, you’re missing a great deal of the depth of what burned quickly as a truly global phenomenon.
In turn, I chose to feature five seminal bands, including Australia’s groundbreaking band Radio Birdman, England’s contributions the Damned, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, as well as America’s Ramones. I’d love to hear what you think … for those who have been afraid to give punk rock a chance, I think this is a good start. And if there are bands you think make better entry points, I’d love to hear your opinions as well.