One would not expect an American Celtic punk band to take authenticity and staying true to oneself and one's roots seriously when that band name is rooted in an alcohol-detoxification facility. Nonetheless, honesty and authenticity have justly earned the Dropkick Murphys a career now spanning twenty-five years.
XS Noize was fortunate enough to review them on their last leg of their European tour in 2020, just before the outbreak in COVID-19. With their first single, “Smash Shit Up”, from this new LP already released a month previously, the LP, Turn Up That Dial was expected to follow in September 2020. With no more delays, fans and all punk enthusiasts can now explore album number ten.
Their previous offering Short Stories of Pain & Glory, tackled the subject matter on losses of friends from an opioid overdose whilst Turn up that Dial promises overall to be a more light-hearted affair that will make people laugh and smile. It will take their troubles and worries away. Opening with the title track sharing the same name as this LP, the excitement and elation felt live instantly hits even the most sedentary of listeners by empowering them with traditional arrangements of banjo and pipes working together with guitars to produce a mind-blowing punk arsenal.
The majority of the songs fuse punk, banjo, pipes and the accordion. "Middle Finger", which begins with accordion before unexpectedly breaking into an up-tempo punk fused accordion punk jig, impresses with lyrics that have more depth than one might expect. The lyrics reveal the middle finger is both literal and a metaphor which justly demands lengthy procrastination such as: “I've learned from my losses, and I know when I'm wrong. Still, my life's sadder than an old country song” and “I was born with this affliction, and I'll take it to the grave”.
“Smash Shit Up”, like "Middle Finger", immediately brings to mind meaningless chaos. However, there is more to this accordion backed punk fuelled rabble-rousing anthem with the following lyrics: “Everything's so pleasant. But sometimes I still miss the mess… But this I must confess I wanna be a rebel I wanna break some bones…” The punk fuelled energy with the pipes is also felt on “Good as Gold” where the joint vocals of Ken Casey and Al Barr produce an adrenaline fuelling cacophony similar to Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.
“L-EE-B-O-Y” will undoubtedly impress diehards because this track shares all the qualities of the Dropkick Murphys live favourite: “The Boys are Back”. The only song to embrace punk in its entirety without the Celtic soundscapes on this LP is "Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding". The first The Clash reference is captured across the lyric “Yeah, never mind singing about police on your back”, about a song The Clash covered. Concerning the pudding, Mr Jones is forgiven and remains a living legend who probably only purloined it because he “must've been high”.
Songs including “HBDMF” allow the traditional Celtic influences to take the lead, which celebrates a close friend’s birthday, spending time with them and family, along with the frustration of how pictures of birthday celebrations can be posted all too frequently in a short space of time on social media. Likewise, with traditional Celtic influences, “Queen of Suffolk County” tells the story of a woman who “had hair like a skyscraper and an even bigger attitude” who “would bring you to your knees”.
The playout song “Wish You Were Here” is special, unique and sad. The first time the band has ended an album with a slow song is a tribute to Al’s late father, Woody. With all the Celtic trimmings, Al sincerely allows an outpour of his emotions across the lyrics: “Beyond the door. I can't follow you there I can't follow for sure” and Are you seeing me cry? Oh, how I miss your face? And the warmth of your smile the light in your eyes”. Whilst the BPM has been significantly reduced, and the melancholy pain and sadness that created this track is undeniable, the overall ambience of fun and care-free retrospectives across Turn Up That Dial is not lost. The Dropkick Murphys have evolved their sound whilst staying loyal to the musical influences that brought them acclaim and make up their cultural DNA.