Review Summary: The Dropkick Murphys continue to deliver the type of music you would expect from them, but reluctantly nothing more.
For the longest time, the Dropkick Murphys’ latest release “The Meanest of Times” had been a difficult record for me to understand. You may ask how? First of all, since “Do or Die” the band had completely transformed their sound, beginning with hard-edged somewhat unoriginal punk to the Celtic rock that they are associated with now. Lead singer Mike McColgan had a great deal to do with this; he left the band following “Do or Die,” and the Murphys were forced to replace their leading songwriter and vocalist. Not that McColgan had a negative impact on the band, but his departure may have been the greatest thing that has happened to the Dropkick Murphys. On the band’s next full-length release “The Gang’s All Here,” Al Barr and Ken Casey took the reigns as lead vocalists and have had been absolutely instrumental to the band’s success since. In 2001, “Sing Loud, Sing Proud” marked a new direction for the Murphys, incorporating Celtic elements into their music more than they ever had. Throughout the next two albums “Blackout” and “Warriors’ Code,” the Dropkick Murphys perfected their sound and basically were indications that a Celtic-punk rock classic was not far off.
That’s where “The Meanest of Times” is frustrating. It does seem however, to be too much to ask. The band had seemingly grown with nearly every record, both in terms of songwriting and instrumentals. Barr and Casey had developed into an absolutely incredible tandem of vocalists, complementing each other beautifully and presenting the records with even more edge and ruggedness. With “The Meanest of Times” it doesn’t appear that the Dropkick Murphys had progressed; the record seems to be pretty much replicates of “Warriors’ Code” and “Blackout” in several areas. So as I was about to sit down and write a review about how the Dropkick Murphys didn’t improve or expand at all, I listened to the record again and thought, so what? More of the same music from the Murphys can hardly be a bad thing. “The Meanest of Times” proves to be an excellent album in its own right, containing many of the same elements that have developed them into such a prevalent band.
This record in particular may be the Dropkick Murphys’ catchiest and upbeat record to date, making use of accelerated paces and uplifting vocals. The Murphys again waste no time getting started, for opener Famous for Nothing
slaps you in the face, pulls you in, and leaves you wanting more. God Willing
is another one of these tracks; its melodies soar and the atmosphere makes you want to jump all over the room like a mad person. These songs are found throughout the record, Vices and Virtues
being an example, for the line “Whiskey, war, suicide, and guns” is incredibly difficult to let go of. Although “The Meanest of Times” is mostly of buoyant nature, the Murphys don’t disappoint to throw a few curveball. The State of Massachussetts
is fully-equipped with a mandolin riff and Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya
proves to be an outstanding cover of traditional track Johnny Comes Marching Home
“The Meanest of Times” however, does expand on the storytelling end, for (F)lannigan’s Ball
and Fairmount Hill
hold true to this. Another traditional track, (F)lannigan’s Ball
features guest vocalists Spider Stacy from the Pogues and Ronnie Drew from the Dubliners. Along with Barr and Casey, each vocalist trades off, talking about the events of a drunken ball. The mandolin returns for Fairmount Hill
, which is closest track on the record to resemble a ballad. The track concludes brilliantly with the music fading out Casey reluctantly singing, “When I awoke in California, many miles from Fairmount Hill.” Following track Loyal to No One
could very well be the record’s best and most innovative track. The impact is instantaneous and the bagpipes and accordion contain some of the band’s best instrumental work to date. Loyal to No One
is one of those tracks that could have elevated “Blackout” or “Warrior’s Code” to classic status had it been released on those records.
A classic may be too much to ask from a band like the Dropkick Murphys, however “The Meanest of Times” is yet another suggestion that it could happen. This record may not have really expanded on many of the band’s concepts and diversity, but clearly doesn’t deserve to be overlooked at all. “The Meanest of Times” is neither an improvement nor a setback for the Dropkick Murphys, and includes some outstanding tracks that would topple several of their previous works.
Famous for Nothing
Loyal to No One