Review Summary: Only part of the title may be accurate, but it's the part you'd want.
Given that it’s so sizeable and dedicated, it really didn’t come as much of a surprise when the title of 'Going Out In Style' caused such concern among the Dropkick Murphys following. Having amassed during a fifteen year spell of exhilarating releases and raucous live shows, the fans were understandably aghast at the sheer prospect of the band calling it quits when arguably at the peak of it’s powers. Sure, previous record 'The Meanest Of Times' represented a slight misstep following years of constant improvement culminating in modern punk classics 'Blackout' and 'The Warrior’s Code,' but it was still a rock solid effort from a band you felt had plenty to left to give to the Celtic punk scene they are the undisputed front runners of. As further details emerged, though, it became clear that the title was a reference to a musical concept within the record rather than to disbandenment. The inevitable sighs of relief followed, but once that gave way the whispers of excitement were louder than per usual for a new album, since the faithful knew that Boston’s finest were embarking on new ground. You’d be hard pressed to find a single apprehensive voice, though, as the Dropkick Murphys are a band who have gained the total trust of their following, so much so that virtually no one has been left with any doubt that they can indeed pull off the concept with a degree of aplomb, and predictably, such premeditations turn out to be bang on target.
With most concept records, the most obvious stylistic shift is in the lyrics, and that’s very much the case here. Songs concerning Irish immigrants to America are nothing new for the band, but this record explores the theme with a greater focus, following the journey of a fictional character, Cornelius Larkin, whose trials and tribulations are based loosely around band members’ own collective experiences. It’s this sense of personal experience which helps the songs here escape the pretentiousness so may other bands fall victim to, and adds genuine heart to what are already hugely accomplished compositions. Another change which has come about to tie-in with the concept is vocally, where Ken Casey largely takes the reigns, leaving usual leader Al Barr in the backseat. This was clearly a deliberate ploy scene as Casey will find the subject matter far more relatable than Barr, who is the only member not of Irish descent, and although his scintillating snarl has become one of the band’s distinctive features, its relegation here proves to be a case of tasteful judgment. Unsurprisingly, this record also turns out to be their most traditionally influenced to date, and although the buzz of guitars still characterises their sound it is often balanced out by the sound of fiddles, flutes and the like on many of the albums songs.
Thankfully, though, the concept hasn’t brought about any overwhelming change in the band’s sound. They’ve always favoured comfortable evolution over rapid reinvention, and this sensible approach means that while this record is a fresh experience, it still maintains a reassuring sense of familiarity. Everything we have come to want and expect from a Dropkick Murphys album is here, be it the rousing bagpipes, the drunken singalongs or simply the joyous fun they have come to convey so well, it’s all here in bucket loads. Perhaps what is most pleasing about this record, however, is that the band has seemingly learnt from it’s few past mistakes. 'The Meanest Of Times,' though a thoroughly enjoyable listen, could also become a tiresome one at times, with it’s sheer in-your-face intensity being largely responsible for this problem. Indeed it wasn’t until the tenth track that they decided to slow the tempo down, and even then 'Fairmount Hill' was a brooding beast which didn’t exactly equate to a breather. Here, though, they only wait until four songs in before they drop 'Cruel,' which also happens to be one of the best mid-tempo pieces they’ve yet come up with. Another slower moment comes in the shape of 'Broken Hymns,' which while not exactly a progressive epic is one of the most ambitious songs they have yet put their name to. It’s probably the best example of the concept paying off, as it’s hard to perceive them getting away such a track on any of their previous releases.
That’s not to say that this album’s strongest moments are all it’s slower ones, though, as the rest of the record sees the band hitting the nail on the head of what they do best. Opening duo 'Hang ‘Em High' and the title track find them shooting from all cylinders, and are surely destined to become live favourites, while on 'The Irish Rover' – the only cover here – they once again put their own twist on a traditional Irish song to great effect. Even 'Memorial Day,' which was underwhelming as a stand alone single impresses within the context of the album, giving it a required lift with it’s accessible and upbeat melody. In fact, this song could be viewed as representative of the record as a whole, since it is arguably their most easily digestable yet. There’s no sense of them changing their sound to captivate more mainstream audiences though, and as if to prove that their stock has never been higher, Bruce Springsteen even makes an appearance on 'Peg O’ My Heart,' along with NOFX’s Fat Mike and The Living End’s Lenny Clarke, who appear on earlier tracks.
Having seemingly knocked their heads on a glass ceiling with their previous release, the news that Dropkick Murphys are very much back to their best could not be more welcome. 'Going Out In Style' isn’t a perfect album – it loses a little bit of steam towards it’s conclusion, and some may see it as being a little too soft – but it’s a definite improvement which can legitimately be compared to their best works. How long they can keep the quality this high is debatable, and there must surely come a time when their standards begin to slip, but for now the band deserve nothing but praise for being one of the most consistent around. It’s this bulletproof reliability which has gained them the total trust of their following, and come the day when the do eventually decide the time is right to hang up the ‘pipes, you can bet that they’ll sing their swansong and go out with the style they’ve become accustomed to.