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"Signed and Sealed in Blood" is the 8th studio album by American punk rock band, Dropkick Murphys. It was released in 2013 on Born & Bred Records and produced by Ted Hutt. The line-up for the album was Al Barr (vocals), James Lynch (guitar), Tim Brennan (guitar), Ken Casey (bass), Matt Kelly (drums), Josh Wallace (bagpipes) and Jeff DaRosa (numerous instruments).
I always look forward to a new Dropkick Murphys album, and this one is no different. Unlike the previous album which was almost done to a concept, "Signed and Sealed in Blood" is very much different. Founder member Ken Casey said that it's the band going into the studio and having fun, unlike "Going Out in Style" on which everything had to be connected. The band has enjoyed the same line-up since 2008, and that always helps when creating new music, as you have that bond and know what everybody else wants. So without further ado, I give you "Signed and Sealed in Blood". Is it any good? Let's find out!
The album starts out with "The Boys Are Back", and to begin with you get a little bit of acoustic guitar which is quickly joined by the bagpipes and Matt Kelly's unmistakeable backing beat. The traditional gang vocals are present, too, and then the fun really begins. It's a song that packs a punch and the first time you hear it, you won't forget it. When those gang vocals stop singing "The boys are back and they're looking for trouble", you will find yourself continuing it in your head throughout the track. It's a simple and effective way of pulling you in before you start, and that's the magic which can only be a good thing. Incredibly difficult to pull off, but if you get it right then it's a sure fire winner. It's a cracking start to the album and if this is how the Murphys mean to go on, we're in for a real treat because the boys really are back!
The moment "Prisoner's Song" starts, I'm immediately reminded of one of the band's finest songs, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston", which they put out on the 2005 album, "The Warrior's Code". The intro is exactly like it, practically note for note, and that's sometimes a bad thing. I'm going to guess, though, that this is a continuation, but that necessarily excuse laziness, and I don't like the way a good song has practically been altered to form something different. Now the rant is over, it's actually a pretty good song and I do like the use of the accordion throughout, even though it is playing that harmony which everyone will recognise. So I think I will sit on the line with this track. Some will hate it, some will love it. I just can't possibly decide.
"Rose Tattoo" is done in a traditional Irish Folk style with acoustic guitar and mandolin sounds that you can imagine hearing in a pub in Dublin with a roaring log fire and a bunch of lads sitting around on stools on a stage. The unfortunate thing is that it doesn't quite work, or at least that's what I think. I've never been one for folk songs but when you sandwich this in-between two very punk-sounding tracks, it's even more of a mystery. "Rose Tattoo" might be a song that a lot of people like, but I want meaty punk songs and sadly, this just isn't one of those. It's definitely not the kind of song you would play if you're in the pub downing a few pints, unless, that is, you're in Ireland.
Remember what I said about the previous track being sandwiched in between two real punk records? "Burn" is a no holds barred track which has an excellent punk feel to it, but my inquisitive ears have heard that opening riff before. Admittedly I have never heard the Freddy Cannon version of "Palisades Park" which he recorded in 1962, but I have heard the Ramones' version, which was released on their 1989 album, "Brain Drain". It is a simple enough riff but I would have hoped for a little bit of originality from one of the world's premier punk bands, because those that know the genre will definitely pick it up. The chorus is very good though and has an excellent vocal harmony attached to it which you won't be able to resist singing along to.
"Jimmy Collins' Wake" is your typical Irish folk song which would be played at someone's wake, a ceremony where people would get stupidly drunk and tell stories about the deceased, more often than not ending up with a fight to let off steam. I think the song is actually about the former baseball player and manager who did both for the Boston Americans (now the Boston Red Sox) in the early 1900s. Most, if not all of the band, are baseball fans and are those that are, are big fans of the Red Sox. Musically, the song is another acoustic guitar-driven song with an almost bluegrass feel to it as the tin whistle plays along in the background. It's not a song I can say I like a lot, but I can say for certain that I would be in the minority here, because it actually isn't a bad track. So why don't I like it? Well, I guess I want more punk-orientated songs and I've had two acoustic folk numbers out of the last three.
It was the Christmas season was when I first heard "The Season's Upon Us" but it isn't now and it feels very dated, even though it's only early January. As with the Ramones and "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)", this is another seasonal punk song of which I don't really care for. Some people love the festivities, and I'm not one of those. For me, it's a little too clichéd. We've heard it all before on numerous songs, and I'm pretty sure the band were just cashing in with this one in the hope of a huge hit which will be played at that time of year for many more to come. We now know the outcome and it didn't really take off like the band had hoped. Is it wrong of me to say that you can have too much of a bad thing? In this case, probably not.
"The Battle Rages On" is an aptly named title, because the battle to win me over is certainly raging on, and at the halfway point of the album, I'm split right down the middle on songs I like and songs I'm not too keen on. This is a song which I do like and I think it's the best on the album so far. I love the vocal harmony on the chorus but the tin whistle melody is a little too simplistic, with your easy up and down the scale notes, and I can't help but wonder if the Murphys have ran out of ideas. I hope not because what the band brings to the table is a vibrant approach to music and punk music in general. So you might wonder why I think it's the best of the bunch so far? Well, all the classic elements of a punk record for the 21st century are present and it's right around the two-and-a-bit-minute mark - standard for a punk track. The gang vocals are timely and though I've yet to hear the song live, I'm going to be certain that it will become part of the Murphys' live set until the band is no more.
"Don't Tear Us Apart" begins with a piano ditty that's warm and friendly, but when the guitars and the vocals join the party, a Murphys fan will say they've heard it before. It sounds a lot like the harmony from "10 Years of Service" from their 1999 album, "The Gang's All Here". Haven't we been down this road before? Oh yeah, "Prisoner's Song" way back on track two. Anyway, we're back at 50/50 because I can't get into this song at all and I played it three times running to see if I could. The chorus is lazy with the title of the song repeated and, as said before, the harmony has been used previously. I like the lyrics on the verses but I'm actually not sure what the song is about, because the chorus seems to be the only hint. This could have been a very good track but in the end it's just a run-of-the-mill number that doesn't grab me at all.
"My Hero" takes us back to a time when the Dropkick Murphys was untouchable on the punk music scene and it's a song I like very much. There's a sense of togetherness with this song and I especially like the guitar riff which takes you on a journey that you don't want to end. This is the standout song of the album and continues the trend of bad followed by good followed by bad and so on. Although I can't be certain, I think the song relates to the narrator's Father whom he idolises and looks up to. He's his hero because in his eyes, he can't do anything wrong, no matter what his faults are. I'm sure the majority of us have been there and can definitely relate to this. It's a great song, but has the band left it too late? Only time will tell.
"Out on the Town" has a rock and roll feel to it and I can imagine someone like Eddie Cochran singing a track like this if he was around in this day and age in his 20s. The good news is, it's another great song which is packed full of those essential ingredients which make up a track which works. The bagpipes work well playing along exactly the same as the vocal harmony, but if I had just one gripe it would be the bridge. It completely splits the track apart and I have to wonder why there's a part with gang whistling that confuses me to no end. Fortunately, it doesn't take away from the fact that this is one of those tracks that you'll want to play over and over, because it will make you sing along and dance around like a loon when nobody's looking. Just don't get caught!
"Out of Our Heads" makes it three in a row and tips the scales towards a positive review, but only just. It's got everything you would expect from the Murphys and it also has a few surprises in store as well. The accordion melody can be a little annoying after a few listens but if you take it away then the song just wouldn't sound right at all. Al Barr's vocals are in fine form on this track - more than any other - but the lyrics on the chorus are too samey, and as Coal Chamber fans will tell you, "The roof is on fire" has been done before. Still, I like the song. It's cheery with a great punk rock flavour, which is a difficult mix to get right these days.
The album comes to a close with "End of the Night" which is vocally led by Ken Casey. It's another of those Murphys pub songs, acoustically driven with an Irish taste, but a lot of fans won't like it. It's too much of the same old once again, and is very reminiscent of "Forever" from their 2001 album, "Sing Loud, Sing Proud". That old curse has struck again and it's one which is hard to shake. It's great to be able to call on past glories but you should perhaps do that on-stage rather than in the studio with a brand new track. It is the end of the night, as far as "Signed and Sealed in Blood" is concerned, but did I love it or hate it?
In summary, it's a difficult album to like, but it does make me want to play it again, although after a few listens now, I know which tracks I will listen to and which I will skip in the future. On one hand you have strong punk rock songs which are guaranteed to rock your head, but on the other hand there are tracks which are just not good enough and will put all sorts of frowns on your head when you're trying to figure out what's going on. But then again, you could be in the minority and love the tracks I don't and vice-versa. It's up to you to decide!
What the Critics Say:
AltSounds: The album is the epitome of that good-time ethic; concise, sentimental, but not above drinking a bottle of whiskey and brawling in the street."
State: "For all of the album's flaws, it's still an easy album to love, wedged with intoxicating energy and strangely endearing anger."
Sputnik Music: "There are in fairness moments where [the album's] slack approach works wonders, but all too often they're undermined by a subconscious reluctance to excel beyond the minimum requirement."
My rating: 6/10
1. The Boys Are Back
2. Prisoner's Song
3. Rose Tattoo
5. Jimmy Collins' Wake
6. The Season's Upon Us
7. The Battle Rages On
8. Don't Tear Us Apart
9. My Hero
10. Out on the Town
11. Out of Our Heads
12. End of the Night
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Boys Are Back
2 Prisoner's Song
3 Rose Tattoo
5 Jimmy Collins' Wake
6 The Season's Upon Us
7 The Battle Rages On
8 Don't Tear Us Apart
9 My Hero
10 Out On the Town
11 Out of Our Heads
12 End of the Night