Legendary Celtic punk rock band the Dropkick Murphys has gained much notoriety over the years for its feisty energy. Its new album, Going Out in Style, continues that tradition, but also takes things up a notch, as a concept album celebrating the life of the fictional character Cornelius Larkin.
Beginning with a raucous wake, the record becomes a retrospective of Larkin’s life, detailing the Irish immigrant’s journey to America, the relationships he formed and the trials and tribulations he faced, such as the Korean War.
Inspired by the stories of the band members’ grandparents, there is tangible emotion throughout the album, which, in conjunction with the masterful song construction, makes this the best Dropkick Murphys release yet.
Al Barr (lead vocals), Ken Casey (bass/lead vocals), Tim Brennan (guitars, accordion, whistles and vocals), Jeff DaRosa (banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, harmonica and vocals), Matt Kelly (drums and vocals), James Lynch (guitars and vocals) and Scruffy Wallace (bagpipes) get things started with a bang as the record opens with the rousing battle cry, “Hang ’Em High.”
The song features military-style drums along with group vocals, especially in the soaring chorus. It is Larkin’s recounting of his rowdy wake and features a fantastic banjo solo in the bridge.
“Going Out in Style” is the track that gives listeners their first in-depth introduction to the character, the song detailing the challenges, successes and mischief Larkin has seen in his life.
The album, however, does not always achieve the same quality; “Memorial Day” is one of the few disappointments. It’s important to the story, but the vocals and arrangements here are lackluster and ultimately forgettable in the grand scheme of the otherwise impressive album.
Despite this sub-par track, the rest of the album successfully showcases the band’s ability to merge its musical talent with themes drawn from the members’ life stories. “Climbing a Chair to Bed” asks, Are you too afraid of living to make a man’s mistakes? It features pounding drums and is a classic example of the signature Dropkick Murphys sound.
For bagpipe lovers, “Deeds Not Words” is an attention-grabbing song with a fist-pumping chorus.
The guys continue delivering hard-hitting tracks with “Sunday Hardcore Matinee,” a homage to the music scene of Massachusetts that tells a tale of camaraderie and celebrates the locale in which the band grew up.
Some of the record’s best melodies can be found in “1953,” which details how Larkin met his wife when he returned home from the Korean War. Touching lyrics include lines like When I was lost, you carried on / when I was weak, you kept us strong.
The record wraps up with two covers apropos to the album’s story. “Peg O’ My Heart” features the legendary Bruce Springsteen trading vocals with Casey as they offer a modern take on this classic Irish love song. They inject a furious amount of energy into this fun offering as they sing, Since I heard your lilting laughter / it’s your Irish heart I’m after.
Closing the record in an uproariously explosive fashion is a cover of the traditional Irish anthem “The Irish Rover.” The track effectively concludes the record by showing the potential danger that any immigrant would face in his or her journey and is easily one of the album’s best offerings.
The Dropkick Murphys has created an album completely worth the three-plus year wait since its last studio release, The Meanest of Times.
The band has always taken risks while preserving its identity, and this concept album is the highlight of its career so far.