Review Summary: Where "I could never keep my life from burning to the ground" coherently meets "I have hope to share and I've got love to give".
Eight years ago, after writing about Dropkick Murphys' Signed & Sealed in Blood
, I expressed some concern that relying on a time-tested formula might lead to diminishing returns. This rang true for 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory
, the follow-up album with stellar bookends (a legitimate banger of a livestream/concert opener in "The Lonesome Boatman" and the resplendent "Until the Next Time") but otherwise filled with puzzling covers, lethargic pacing, and uncharacteristically vapid hooks. The end product ran contradictory to the Boston band's blue-collar, workmanlike ethos, so Turn Up That Dial
-- the band's 10th and closing in on their silver anniversary -- was met with skepticism.
Lives can change in a flash, so extrapolate multiple instances across eight years and you're sure to encounter jubilation and heartache. Responding to adversity in a healthy fashion can be an opportunity to build resilience and hope for the future, especially amidst tragic -demics (like an opioid epidemic or a global pandemic). Ken Casey suffered nerve damage in his fingers a motorcycle accident, rendering him incapable of playing bass. No matter. He's still strutting about in the livestreams and in his community initiatives -- and went back to UMass to work on finishing his degree. Co-vocalist Al Barr's sea legs might not be what they used to when the Murphys were shipping up to Boston, but the wistful "I Wish You Were Here" -- Dial
's closer -- beautifully eulogizes his father, forever creating art that anyone shaped by love and loss can use for healing.
Turn Up That Dial
is a welcome addition to the Dropkick discography because it's steeped in fun. There's palpable piss-and-vinegar energy that permeates throughout the record, with no sense of ennui or ticking marks on a Celtic checklist. No one is impervious to day-to-day stress and turmoil, but for under 40 minutes, Dial
does its part to help you forget them for a spell.
To reiterate, this album is rife with a sense of humor and filled with sentiments of gratitude and counting one's blessings. To the band's credit, they didn't bury the lede as far as what sort of playfulness might be found on record, accusing a Clash co-founder as a sticky-fingered dessert klepto in "Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding" over a year before album release. Meanwhile, "H.B.D.M.F." is the spiritual successor to Signed & Sealed in Blood
's "The Season's Upon Us", with a crotchety Casey lampooning adults who might be overly histrionic about taking another lap around the sun ("It's a birth-day
, not a week"). Fans who prefer the band's Hellcat era are likely to be disappointed, but rather than implying it's a formula they follow, perhaps it's a laser-focus on fulfilling a niche.
's title track opens the record, effectively setting the album's tone by pulling no punches with its distorted guitars, accordion-forward motif throughout the verses and bridge, and a glorious gang vocal in its chorus. "Turn Up That Dial" celebrates music and its power to inspire, to serve as private respite, or to be shared amongst a like-minded community. This fervor extends in the frenetic "Good as Gold", with direct references to Minor Threat and allusions to the Sugarhill Gang (and I'm sure Eddie Money splits the difference somewhere in here, too). Multi-instrumentalists Tim Brennan and Jeff DaRosa have a ubiquitous presence throughout Turn Up That Dial
, shining on razor-sharp cuts like "Queen of Suffolk County" and the folk-leaning "City By the Sea", both of which are geographic love letters to the band's hometown. "So take me back to where I'm from / Where I'm hated, where I'm loved / Where they welcome me and raised me to be the man that I've become," roars Casey in "Sea"'s anthemic chorus, lamenting the understandable push-pull of needing to tour for work and support a family -- but knowing that any homesickness will be a fleeting feeling.
In conjunction with a love for family and music, it's kinship with one's friends that is another recurring theme throughout Dial
. Look no further than the rollicking "L-EE-B-O-Y", which enshrines longtime bagpiper Lee Forshner. While one could argue it's a rated-PG version of the Murphys' various Spicy McHaggis jigs and references, it turns out the track was a surprise gift: the band advised Forshner to write some lines without knowing anything about the track other than a fake title of "Ring the Bell," perhaps a red herring to the band's boxing promotion. When the band made the big reveal over Zoom, the unmistakable joy on 'the King of B-flat' is convincing. It can be challenging to make new friends in adulthood, so to forever celebrate a steadfast, "righteous dude... [with] lightning in his hands and TNT in his boots" is a priceless gift. We'd all be so fortunate to have someone in our corner like that.
I'm a simple man. I hear a Murphys record, it gets a favorable score by default. "Smash Shit Up" can (probably) be played at TD Garden at a Bruins game in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of fashion (I can hear Casey teasing, "No, really, the song's called 'Smash It
Up', I swear to God!"), and the bouncing bass line rumbling underneath the accordion and guitars is sure to be a live favorite. Yes, there's plenty of elements that are eyebrow-raising, especially the band's penchant for strange similes and syntax ("She had hair like a skyscraper"; "If we don't smarten up, they're gonna tell us all to screw"), but they're par for the course. Fox News isn't going to be playing verses or bridge to the sardonic "Chosen Few", and after nearly 25 years, the dog might not be interested in learning new tricks despite one's best efforts. That said, there's still some cleverness and ingenuity to be had: the feverishly-paced "Middle Finger" is iconic Murphys, as are the title track's love letter to music's formative influence and the as-of-yet-unheralded "City By the Sea". In all, Turn Up That Dial
treads familiar ground, but their heart-on-sleeve message of empathy and admiration for friends, family, and the gift of music is a welcome addition to their discography.