Review Summary: Fun, but not too much more than that.
The fusion of folk and punk music must have been a real shock back in the ’80s; bands like The Pogues and Violent Femmes brought people one of the most unlikely genre combinations seen, and made extremely high-quality recordings to boot. The genre usually enjoys a party atmosphere, replete with drinking and dancing, and nowhere is that more evident than with the progression of Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys’ latest works. Starting in 1996, the band have been crucial to the popularization of the folk punk genre, with their forefathers The Pogues as their most evident influence. Unfortunately, as with many long running bands, Dropkick Murphys have been losing steam as of late, and their albums have become more run-of-the-mill; the band has a comfort zone, and it appears that they don’t intend on leaving it any time soon. With how surprisingly diverse their last record Going Out in Style (2011) was, however, it would be a challenge to accurately pinpoint the band’s next move. So what do they do? They create a fist-pumping party record with their signature sound! And the result? It is decent, but not much more.
While the party tracks are definitely entertaining, they’re coated in mediocrity; from the predictable song structures to the repetitive lyricism, an otherwise fun experience is mired in overall blandness. Songs like the adrenaline-pumping punk-fest “Burn” or the crowd-welcoming singalong opener “The Boys Are Back” suggest a great record on the surface, but they get surrounded by “been-there-done-that” tracks for the listener to trudge through. The fact that the lengthiest tracks drag beyond belief certainly doesn’t help matters, with closer “End of the Night” repeating its waltz-like swinging chorus to the point of pure irritation. It’s unfortunate because these songs begin with good intentions, and yet the dull patches plaguing the motifs weigh them down far too much. Luckily, with that said, the songs are usually very short, and the album as a whole goes by pretty quickly. Rarely was there a moment when I would look at a song’s running time, hoping it would end already.
Even the production, while clear, opts for the same atmosphere as the songs do. All the instruments sound like they should, but overall sounding very loose and relaxed, as do Al Barr’s gruff vocals. The biggest issue with the instrumentation in the album is that it sounds very by-the-numbers, there’s nothing really new or different about it. It’s a sound familiar to the aforementioned Pogues, but just a little too familiar. Bassist Ken Casey’s work on the album mainly consists of performing a bevy of variations on perfect 5th’s and octaves while the guitar work and folk-oriented instruments illustrate the foreground along with the vocals. Again, it’s not all too interesting compared to what the band have done in the past. With all that said, it sounds like the album is pretty awful, right? Well, not quite…
Despite the album’s numerous flaws, the electric atmosphere is something to be heavily admired; the repetition partially works to the band’s advantage, as they can repeat chord progressions to build up the crowd’s energy and, for lack of better word, morale during concerts. Signed and Sealed in Blood is a party record, and it makes no attempt to hide that fact. With that in mind, the best cuts on the album are the ones that fully showcase the band’s breakneck punk style. For instance, “The Battle Rages On” is exceptionally short but treats the listener to a head-bashing whirlwind of frenzied guitar riffs and blunt percussion, all while retaining its distinctly Irish flavor in the overarching atmosphere. Other songs continue in this vein, just with dull pieces to sit through to get to those special moments.
Signed and Sealed in Blood is most likely Dropkick Murphys’ worst album, but that’s not saying too much. Considering the band’s highly consistent discography, perhaps this record is the creative pit-stop they needed before moving on to better things. Listen to the album if you simply want to enjoy yourself; just leave your brain at the door before going in, as well as having the Skip button on standby for those dull patches.