It is sad but true that when a band uses instruments that are not thought of as ‘standard-rock’ instruments they seem to carry some sort of stigma with them. Adding alternative instruments to the ordinary mix of guitar, drums and bass is all too often seen as a gimmick. Some music fans fail to see such additions as a touch of creativity or, in this case, culture, and therefore to take the band seriously. Others appreciate the band in spite of such a ‘gimmick’, but mostly they love such bands because
of the gimmick. After all, it does add a sense of uniqueness to such bands. One band that does this is Dropkick Murphys. Along with LA’s Flogging Molly they are at the forefront of the Irish-Punk scene, and have been for many years. Making use of traditional Irish-folk/Celtic-folk instruments such as bagpipes, tin-whistles, mandolins and banjos they have carved themselves them a niche in the punk world with which they are heavily affiliated. Instruments such as these colour their songs, making them sound more unique and often, more enjoyable. It is a shame, and something of a surprise, that the use of these instruments is sparse-to-non-existent on Volume 1 of their Singles Collection.
Looking at, and listening to all of the great songs that the Murphys are loved for makes you realise that they often make great use of traditional folk instruments. ‘The Dirty Glass’, ‘I’m Shipping up To Boston’, ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ and more recently ‘The State of Massachusetts’… the list of great DKM songs that are heavily influenced by folk doesn’t end here. However, it sure as hell doesn’t start with the band’s first few EPs released between 1996 and 1997. The only song hinting at, well, blatantly
displaying, for a more accurate term, is the short and sweet ‘Cadence to Arms’
. If the excited screams that it elicits are anything to go by, then it is most certainly an excellent intro to a Dropkick Murphys show. For some, this lack of culture may not matter. For many though, without a nice touch of emerald ethnicity this is simply bland punk rock that is much harder to get into and enjoy. ‘Never Alone’
is an example of this as it comes and goes without leaving much impact, as does the live version of it later on the album. The studio version is lifeless and uninspiring and the live recording, though much better, is far from great. The same can also be said for ‘Regular Guy’
, ‘John Law’
– all of which are instantly forgettable and dull.
It is also worth mentioning that throughout their career Dropkick Murphys have earned a lot of success and received a lot of attention thanks to some excellent covers. A video for their take on traditional Irish song ‘The Wild Rover’ a few years ago was very well received by both those disposed to the band’s punk roots and those favouring the folk/traditional side of things. It is only fitting then, that some of the best songs here are covers; the best track on the album overall is in fact a cover of a traditional song given the punk treatment, as well as the Boston
treatment. ‘Skinhead on the MTBA’
is the song that has closed hundred of DKM shows and seen thousands
of crowd members invade the stage to join in with the sing-a-long fun. The energy from the show translates brilliantly, and bridging it with AC/DC’s ‘TNT’ makes it even better. The band also prove that it is near impossible to ruin a great song such as The Clash’s ‘White Riot’
; while another cover of the band – ‘Career Opportunities’
– is definitely a song that could have been excluded from the collection.
In his excellent review of Dropkick Murphys’ ‘The Warriors Code’ Rudd 13 said [i]“You just can’t accomplish a good Dropkicks song without (Al) Barr.” He’s not lying. See, all of the songs here were recorded/written before Barr joined the band in 1999, and his absence is noticeable. For those familiar with Al Barr’s fairly rough, yet melodic voice, Mike McColgan’s (singer on this collection) vocals may seem poor in comparison. They do definitely lack the passion that Al Barr has bought to every song he has sung on, and this makes the songs seem even more watered down.
Dropkick Murphys are an excellent band. There is no doubting that. However, everyone has to start somewhere and it just so happens that the Singles Collection Volume One is where the band started as it chronicles their first six EPs/singles. Released early on in the career, they wouldn’t have had the highest budget possible for recording and it shows. Rather than achieving the raw and energetic sound quality one would hope to hear from punk, it sounds muddy and rough and this brings the entertainment value down even further. It is not all bad as it contains the excellent, infectious fan favourite ‘Barroom Hero’
– catchy and upbeat, it is what this collection badly wants to be but falls sadly short. Dropkick Murphys are an excellent band and have many great albums. However, this really isn’t the best place to start.