The one, the only, Dropkick Murphys!
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To my mind, the Dropkick Murphys are the quintessential working Boston band: a bunch of scrappy, independent, working-class guys who unabashedly wave the hometown pride flag without being overly obnoxious about it. Formed in Quincy, Mass., in 1995, they've built up a hard-core loyal following thanks to constant touring and releasing only five high-quality CDs on the Los Angeles-based independent record label Hellcat Records.
They've branched out from their core Boston following in recent years and have hit the world-wide circuit winning converts to their brand of Irish Boston punk Oi! rock by never flagging in their "power to the people" blue state political bent.
All the hard work, and their never-wavering loyalty to their roots, has paid off. More and more, the Dropkick Murphys have gained the attention of mainstream audiences, thanks to their songs showing up in various soundtracks. 'Tessie' was the theme song for the Farrelly Brothers film Fever Pitch. 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston' was featured in the Oscar-winning film The Departed. For the skatepunks out there, 'Time to Go' was featured in the Playstation videogame Tony Hawk's Underground.
The Dropkick boyos obviously write about what they know. Original songs are rife with references to the part of Boston that rarely makes it to pop culture — which seems to focus almost exclusively on the lawyers or the criminal element. Instead, they talk about the everyday working class who work hard, party harder, and know how to have a good time. They also specialize in cover songs of "classic" tunes by giving them a unique modern twist, as in the case of 'Skinhead on the MBTA' and 'Tessie.'
Their Boston-area St. Patrick's Day concerts are justifiably famous (I hope to someday actually make one of them) for both the energy they put into them, the fact they play for three days straight around the big day, and the fact they sell out almost the second they're announced.
In any case, if you're fans of the Clash, the Pixies, the Pogues, Stiff Little Fingers, Flogging Molly, Swinging Udders, and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, you'll definitely fall for the Dropkick Murphys.
Sadly, I'm only now building my CD collection of the Dropkick Murphys (for a long time, my fangirling was limited to what I heard on the radio), so I've only got samples from three CDs to offer up for your listening pleasure.
The Singles Collection Rating=$$$$
How I Got This CD: Bought used in Providence, R.I.
Personally, the title of CD makes me giggle like a fricken loon. The Dropkick Murphys aren't exactly what you'd call a factory for the hits, so the title The Singles Collection is just a leeeeetle disingenuous, y'know? Even so, it's a hard-rockin', hard drivin' CD that gets the heart pumping and the body moving. The songs average roughly two minutes long (the exception being 'Skinhead on the MBTA' because it's a live track and there's some audience interplay).
The CD is more of an archive of singles the band put out on various punk labels from 1996 to 1997 when they were just starting out. Many of the singles were out-of-print, which was enough to make any Dropkick Murphys fan pull their hair out if they wanted to get their hands on the early stuff. Needless to say, fans of the band were thrilled to be able to finally get their hands on all those singles in one collection.
Criticisms that the CD isn't exactly ground-breaking for either the Dropkicks or for punk in general are reasonable, even if it misses the point that this is a snapshot of a band that's just starting out and finding their own unique voice. You'll find no less than three Clash covers tossed in the 24 tracks, and other songs that adhere just a little too closely to your standard punk cliché. That said, the energy on the CD is as infectious as it is undeniable, helped immeasurably by the high-energy live performances mixed in with the studio tracks.
Overall, it's a fantastic CD to have and a nice introduction to the Dropkick Murphys if you're unfamiliar with the band. However, I highly recommend that if you buy this CD, buy The Singles Collection, Vol. 2 as a companion to go with it. If you only have to buy one, go with Vol. 2 and wait to buy this one, mostly because Vol. 1 shows the Dropkick Murphys at their young unpolished best while Vol. 2 shows a more seasoned band that's finally found their unique voice.
People who like a little bagpipes mixed with Oi! are going to dig 'Barroom Hero.' What makes this song especially fantastic is the clear irony of the title. The lyrics tell a different story about a hard-drinkin', hard-fightin' man who won't admit he's an alcoholic who's dragging his people down. Hero he may be to his mates, but the Dropkicks have no mercy. The man's nothing but a fool for not changing his ways, and he ain't no hero.
Clash fans will appreciate the Dropkick Murphys tribute to one of the band's influences with a cover of 'Career Opportunities.' As mentioned above, it's one of three Clash covers, but I think this one is the best of the bunch.
Hard-rocking guitars drives the live version of 'Do or Die' as the band rails against the greed of the Regan years robbing the unions of their power to protect the working man. The band then goes on to exhort the crowd to fight to hold on to their dreams and their rights. All this in less than two minutes.
I've offered 'Skinhead on the MTBA' before, and I'm offering it again because it highlights the Dropkick Murphys unique strength: the ability to take a classic, update it for the modern day, and make it uniquely their own. 'Skinhead on the MBTA' also showcases the Dropkick Murphys playfully sly sense of humor. Instead of Charlie (now the 'Skinhead' in the title) riding helplessly on the subway because he can't afford the exit fare, Skinhead headbuts the conductor, steals the train, and takes that puppy where he needs to go. The Dropkicks further tweak the audience by pointing out that there's no need to get riled about it. After all, Skinhead will work for an unending supply of free beers. Whaddabargain!
Sample Song Downloads: Barroom Hero, Career Opportunities, Do or Die (Live), Skinhead on the MBTA (Live)
The Singles Collection, Vol. 2 Rating=$$$$$
How I Got This CD: Bought used in Providence, R.I.
As I mentioned above, this CD is the best CD to get if you're unfamiliar with the Dropkicks and want a solid introduction to their oeuvre. This collection is billed by the band as a bunch of "B-sides, Covers, Comps, and Other Crap" that they accumulated between 1997 to 2004. Truth to tell, the vast majority of the CD is made up of cover songs from other punk bands, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. In either case, the extended time period pays off for the band in this 23-track collection, because they can cherry-pick the tracks that show the band at its best.
You can certainly hear that the Dropkicks have come a long way from their 1995 beginnings on this CD. The band is definitely more self-assured and musically much tighter. What's more, that playfully sly sense of humor is more in evidence as they reach outside of the usual punk conceits to steal from other musical genres and put their own unique stamp on it (for example, their cover AC/DC's 'It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock & Roll) has bagpipes in the mix).
Speaking only for myself, this CD highlights everything that I love about my hometown boys. If you only buy one Dropkicks CD, this is the one to get. File this one under "you can't possibly go wrong" and get it.
Do I have to tell you that it was hell picking only four tracks for a sample? Do I? Well, it was.
Naturally, 'Pipebomb on Landsdowne (Dance Remix)' had to be included in the downloads, if only because it amuses me so greatly. For you non-Bostonians out there, Landsdowne Street is "party central." It runs off Kenmore Square, a central hangout for Boston University students. To say it's a big lure for the local nightlife, a headache for local law enforcement, and a serious fucking annoyance for people who actually live in the area is underestimating the long-running tensions. What can I say? This song captures the whole mess so perfectly it hurts.
By the way, the "Dance Remix" part is, well, a joke. This song isn't exactly full of what you'd call dance beats (unless your idea of 'dance' is slam-dancing). What it is full of is "bleeps" to block out the dirty words (the bleeps are a joke, too). Awww, hell, 'Pipebomb on Landsdowne (Dance Remix)' is one giant inside joke for the locals. And if you're not a local? Just kickback and enjoy the tune.
Remember that scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian desperately tries to convince the crowd that they shouldn't be following him, that they should all think for themselves, and that they're all individuals and the crowd repeats back everything he says in unison? That's 'Nobody's Hero' (originally recorded by Belfast punkers Stiff Little Fingers) in a nutshell, only without people shouting back the lyrics at the band.
I had to include the the Dropkick's live rendition of 'Wild Rover' because it's a raucously fantastic boozy rendition aided and abetted by Shane MacGowan formerly of The Pogues.
'We Got the Power' is an anthem to the power of the working class unionizing. This one is a true B-side in that it's a track that didn't make it to the the band's fourth CD, Blackout. (And no, I don't have my hands on Blackout yet, although it is on my "future purchases" list)
Sample Song Downloads: Pipebomb on Landsdowne (Dance Remix), Nobody's Hero, Wild Rover, We Got the Power
The Warrior's Code Rating=$$$$$
How I Got This CD: Bought new as soon as it hit the streets.
The Warrior's Code is the Dropkicks best-selling album. No wonder. The CD has a bit of everything for everybody, ranging from the poppy beat of 'Sunshine Highway,' to the traditional 'Green Fields of France (No Man's Land),' to the raucous hometown pride song 'Tessie,' to the hard-driving punk anthem 'Citizen CIA,' to the Irish punk-style cover of 'Auld Triangle.' There isn't a wasted track in the bunch.
Obviously, quite a few people agree. Tracks off this CD have been used in commercials ('Sunshine Highway') and in movies ('I'm Shipping Up to Boston' and 'Tessie'). It's certainly the most accessible CD the Dropkicks have ever released, and a fine follow-up to Blackout, which made quite a few happy waves in Boston when it was released.
In either case, The Warrior's Code is a worthy addition to any CD collection and lover of Irish punk.
'Sunshine Highway' edges away from punk and veers into a poppy, happy beat. If it sounds familiar, that's because this song has shown up in commercials. You've heard it, although you might not realize it. That's only because you've only heard the chorus. What you haven't heard are the verses, and no wonder. Have the Madison Ave. people actually heard the whole song? I mean, what does a song about someone who's trying to break an addition to alcohol and/or drugs have to do with taking a vacation cruise?
'Wicked Sensitive Crew' never fails to crack my shit up. The lyrics are all about how the boyos really are nothing more than soft teddy bears underneath their rough-n-tough exterior. Really. You can practically hear them singing this with hands over their hearts while the bagpipes sing out just how sensitive they are. Hey, they even cried when Mickey died in Rocky 2. And they shake hands with their feelings. Honest. Bwahahahahaha! I love these guys.
Now, for a complete change in mood, I offer you their cover of Eric Bogle's song, 'The Green Fields of France (No Man's Land).' The band plays it completely straight by using traditional arrangements and vocals. Beware! The song is sure to touch your heart and make you cry.
As mentioned above, 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston' was heavily featured in Martin Scorsese's The Departed and was used in trailers for the movie. The song is actually cover of a sorts. Many of the lyrics are actually unpublished Woodie Guthrie lyrics, with additional lyrics (most notably the rant that the sailor is going to tear apart Boston to find his wooden leg) added by the Dropkicks.
Sample Song Downloads: Sunshine Highway, Wicked Sensitive Crew, Green Fields of France, I'm Shipping Up to Boston
If you just want to hit one page, you can download all files listed above from a single Dropkick Murphy's project page by clicking here.
To find previous thumbnail reviews, go to the Review Index.
After the download links expire, you can listen to streaming MP3 files linked with reviews at my Vox shadow blog for media.
None = Avoid at all cost. Worth cutting your ears off to avoid if someone threatens to play it for you. When faced with even the threat of its cellophane-wrapped presence, your best option is to RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!
$= If you stumble across it for cheap in a used bin, it might, maybe, perhaps could be worth the buy, but only if you need a cheap coaster for your cold drinks or a cool-looking Frisbee.
$$= You might want to give this CD/artist a try, but only if the sample track tickles your fancy. Don't bother buying this one new because the good tunes you'd get out of this one ain't worth that kind of money.
$$$ = Worth looking for on a casual basis and maybe even buying new, but no big rush.
$$$$ = Definitely worth having in the ol' CD collection and definitely worth buying new, but don't re-arrange your personal "must have" list to get your hands on it.
$$$$$ = Why haven't you bought this CD yet? Go. This is a "Want. Take. Have." situation because you so want this.
The management would love it if you comment when you download.