Dropkick Murphys — 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory ANALYSIS & REVIEW
The melodic lines throughout this album never shied away from the spotlight, and presented a valiant effort by Dropkick Murphys at creating memorable and fun music. The effort was mostly appreciated, but it sadly came to nothing. Original melodies were all very bland, mostly flat, and relied on other elements of the music to carry it. The lines were simply born out of the chord, and because of that, the key that was chosen. A lot of melodies seemed to be in very unhelpful and almost annoying registers, being too high in “First Class Loser” and too low in “4–15–13”. Shape was almost non-existent; the singers seemed okay with presenting the melodic line in a forced, one-pitch screech that added no intrigue to the surrounding texture. Bands like AC/DC have used the one-pitch screech to their advantage, having it be the cherry on top to a well-worked and powerful structure.
The power that Dropkick Murphys tried to achieve through melodies in this album seemed too fabricated. The only song on the album with any good melodic motion and true gravity was “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, which isn’t even their song. There was some catchiness here and there, such as in “The Lonesome Boatman” and “Blood”, but they were repeated as if they were impeccable and timeless vocal lines, which they certainly weren’t. You could argue that they sounded very full of themselves in this album, but I wouldn’t go that far. Their melodies were simply presented in an over-the-top fashion that the actual melodic substance could not live up to. Melody actually got the highest score here, and all it needed was more nuance above the texture to reach a more satisfactory level.
It’s obvious that the Dropkick Murphys had no intention of doing any harmonic experimentation in this album. They used I, IV, and V quite religiously while throwing in the occasional minor mode with bIII. This in itself is not a negative, but this tunnel view of harmony does set the musicians up for an uphill battle to constantly find creative uses with very little material. A bit to my surprise, Dropkick Murphys were up to the challenge more often than not, and actually came out of the war room with some cool and distinctive uses. A couple examples of this are the songs “Blood” and “4–15–13”. Only a few musicians/bands throughout history could keep up this creativity with this basic language for long periods of time, and Dropkick Murphys are certainly not one of them. While sometimes finding a creative path, they completely whiffed on songs like “Sandlot”, “Paying My Way”, and “Kicking to the Curb”.
By the end, their uses of I, IV and V got to be really old hat, and quite unbearable for anyone used to musical experimentation. The biggest aspect that separated their successful harmonies from the unsuccessful ones was the rhythm. If they had unique syncopation and interesting meter, they were on the right track. Really, if they did anything other than switch between I, IV and V every one or two beats, they found something of worth. Sadly, they couldn’t for half of the album. Rhythm is paramount and should be extremely high up on a musician’s list when writing music. It escaped Dropkick Murphys too many times.
They tried for an overpowering sound that could fill a stadium, and instead they got a hodge-podge of unrefined boringness. The core instruments sounded very raw and created a false sense of energy. Being loud and heavy does not equate to energy. Only in the song “If I Had a Hat” did the energy become tangible, and it was mostly thanks to the drums finally being featured. The guitar did nothing but sound loud and force feed the harmony to the listener. The backup vocals, for the most part, sounded like drunk old men trying to add their input on an already-established tune. If I wanted to hear that, I’d go a run-down bar. I don’t want to listen to a recording of that, in any circumstance.
However, these rather dull uses of guitar and vocals weren’t just coming out-of-the-blue; it fit with the mood, and some of it did sound amusing and understandable, which saves the music from being disastrous. And, although the staple instruments fell short of creating something truly worthwhile, the additions of tin whistle, mandolin and bagpipes gave at least some sense of ground and emotion from time to time. However, they simply weren’t used enough or had enough space in the texture to truly make the impact that they could have. The last song, “Until the Next Time”, really sums up the failure to get different timbres involved in an effective way. If half of the timbre is relentlessly and unnecessarily thrashing the harmony, while the other half is doubling a lackluster melody, is doesn’t matter what the instrumentation is. It literally brings nothing of its own to the table, which is sad because it was obviously influenced by Irish culture. I’m Irish, and this is not the sound that should be associated with my heritage. Celtic music has always been far beyond this.
Even though this album sounded rough and possibly distressing, Dropkick Murphys have the greatest of intentions and seem to be in the business for the right reasons. I can tell this by their themes that they display. In just looking at the lyrics, they are writing some very respectable songs about underprivileged kids, lost love, drug abuse, honor to terrorist victims, and hope. Their song “Kicked To the Curb” kind of derailed that, but the good intention still rang pretty heavily throughout the album. Their cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is sure to get attention and interest for multiple reasons regardless of what it sounds like. I would know, I’m a Liverpool fan. What they didn’t do in 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is sound unique. It sounded like they could have even been boring themselves. Celtic punk is a very constricting genre if you are to do it, and there’s just a limit now to the amount of interest it can generate. Aside from high schoolers that still think Irish punk by Americans is a gem, or those extremely close to the band, this album could easily fall out and be forgotten. Still, great intent from America’s most famous Celtic punk band.