The newest blast from Dropkick Murphys opens with a shout of Celtic holler-rock, no words needed. The rest of these 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory celebrate working-class folk, churn up rebellion, and vent anger with tongue just a little in cheek – and bitten bloody. From the subterranean rebels of “Blood”: “They said people like you screw everything up…If you want blood we’ll give you some.”
“Sandlot” shouts nostalgia for youth when “we had it all…we weren’t rich and no one told us.” “First Class Loser” is a wail of semi-sarcastic hostility that both channels and condemns prejudice and hatred. “Paying My Way” and “Rebels with a Cause” are simple paeans to working-class folk struggling to haul themselves up from ill luck and addiction. (The band’s Claddagh Fund charity supports addiction recovery as well as children’s and veterans’ organizations.) “I Had a Hat” is a roustabout’s story song, in the tradition of both Irish folk ballads and the blues.
A hard-rock take on the old chestnut “You’ll Never Walk Alone” shows that a sentiment like “Walk on with hope in your heart” has the same meaning for any generation and in any musical or cultural language. “Until Next Time” reflects the same message, with its lyrical quote from the World War II classic “We’ll Meet Again.”
Another different-path highlight is “4-15-13,” still uptempo but with a softer mood, perhaps the album’s most serious song but sonically a needed break from the punk onslaught. The song mourns the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, not only the individuals maimed and killed but the city’s sense of security: “We lost our innocence today / On Patriots’ Day.” Yet its verses have all the folksy humanity of something Pete Seeger might have written: “We’re all just people trying to make our way.”
In fact that’s one of the great merits of this album: Every song is about something – maybe not always real people or events, but stuffed to capacity with visceral language and imagery, on top of Dropkick Murphys’ trademark skull-rattling volume and unison shouts. The band took a leave from the Hub to record 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory in Texas, but they lost none of their Celtic rock energy, emerging with an album that leaves me thinking: Onward Boston soldiers.