April 26, 2021 Dropkick Murphys – Turn Up That Dial (Album Review)
In moments of joy and despair, we turn to music for solace: it is a cross-cultural language of love, a unifier, and a panacea for all that ails us. Believers in its power to inspire, the Celtic Punks in Dropkick Murphys have written a new collection that seeks to get you out of your sweatpants, get you off the couch, and inspire you to embrace life again. Turn Up That Dial arrives on Friday, April 30, 2021 via their own Born & Bred.
From the flagrant streets of Beantown, Dropkick Murphys are the undisputed kings of Celtic Punk. This proudly Boston Strong menagerie is celebrating 25 years of exceptional musicianship, lyrics with heart, and a charitable sincerity that has made them beloved across the globe. Sure, their big break came when The Mighty Mighty Bosstones selected them as the opening act for their 1997 tour, but they’ve never taken a single moment for granted. Amassing a truly impressive catalogue of material, they found commercial success with 2005’s gold-selling The Warrior’s Code and the near double-platinum single “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” which was featured in Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning film The Departed. And, most recently, 2017’s 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory gracefully stole the #8 slot on the Billboard Top 200, as well as taking the #1 slot on independently-released record charts.
Now it’s time for their tenth full-length studio offering, Turn Up That Dial. Produced by longtime collaborator Ted Hutt (Gaslight Anthem, Old Crow Medicine Show), the 11-song LP celebrates the simple pleasure of music; the relief and release from worry that comes when you “turn up that dial” and blast your troubles away. For Dropkick Murphys—Al Barr (lead vocals), Ken Casey (lead vocals), Tim Brennan (guitars, tin whistle, accordion, piano, vocals), Jeff DaRosa (guitars, banjo, mandolin, vocals), Matt Kelly (drums, percussion, and vocals), and James Lynch (guitars and vocals), as well as touring members Kevin Rheault (bass) and Lee Forshner (bagpipes)—it is somewhat of a return to form.
How so? Well, whereas 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory was a darker album influenced by the opioid epidemic, Turn Up That Dial is an upbeat acknowledgment that, although life is always going to involve struggle, there’s no reason not to find a way to enjoy the wild ride. It is an album about music: embracing and respecting its power, and clinging to its salvation in times such as these. In fact, it is an album that was recorded amid the global pandemic, and one that involved finding creative ways to continue recording while adhering to social distancing guidelines; making the very best of a bad situation.
This brings a realism to the content throughout Turn Up That Dial, which finds a dignified balance between acknowledging the negative and rejoicing in the positive. Wasting no time in exploring the latter, it’s a party from the get-go with the titular “Turn Up That Dial,” which, much like the entire record, celebrates the music and messages that move us and make us want to embrace life. With its full sound and toe-tapping beat, the track is guaranteed to be a blast at shows (or in livestreams). And if for some reason you’ve never heard Dropkick Murphys before, stream it immediately for a special introduction to the Punk party.
This fun-loving attitude continues throughout much of the LP, from the bagpipe-laden tribute to a righteous dude named “L-EE-B-O-Y” to an homage to home aptly-titled “City by the Sea.” Additionally, they offer sympathy to those who can’t get their fingers to behave in “Middle Finger,” an ironically wholesome jig, and deliver the folktale of a knife-wielding, big-haired she-devil in “Queen of Suffolk County.” (But that’s Massachusetts, not New York.)
To say that anything on Turn That Dial Up isn’t standard fare for Dropkick Murphys would be grossly untrue, and there are definitely those tracks (“Turn Up That Dial,” “Good As Gold”) that stand as flawless representations of what this band has to offer, musically. Of course, if you prefer outright ridiculousness, they have that too. A clash (ahem) over pudding, you say? It’s just that in “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding,” though they also take time for some amusing irony in the accordion-laced “H.B.D.M.F.,” enchanting musicianship that spells a birthday wish for one selfish mofo. (That magical little piano outro!)
In other moments they dig down into the muck between the cobblestones for the rebellious rallying call of “Smash Shit Up,” proving they are forever and always agitators with a cause. Of course, these mighty Bostonians have always had that deeper side to their personality, one that drives them to consistently involve themselves in charities and worthy causes, as well as to use their platform to speak out on issues of importance. And so it’s no shock that they tackle the current finger-pointing divide in the Home of the Brave in “Chosen Few.” A reimagining of “The Chosen Few” that thinks broader than Boston, it explores the ineptitude of America’s former president when responding to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the equally useless social media storm that followed. Is it a look at a global nightmare that sounds like a dream? Absolutely!
But they choose to end on a somber, deeply personal note with “I Wish You Were Here.” The emotional track is a tribute to Barr’s late father, Woody Barr, and a special moment that closes out the album with accordion, bagpipes, and a drum march to lovingly say goodbye. “We’ve never ended an album with a slow song, but we had to end it with a tip of the cap to pay our respects to Woody and so many others,” notes Casey. “It’s a moment to stop, count our blessings, and remember those who we’ve lost, including the 500,000-plus people to this virus.”
It is these humble and tender moments amid the blissful jigs and ironic mockery that cement Dropkick Murphys as a powerfully heartfelt force in music. And while other bands are toying with Hip-Hop cadences and trying to fit in a well-placed millennial whoop, there’s a comfort in knowing that this band is forever loyal to the sound that put them on the map. Simple yet comforting, like a tattered old pair of jeans or the holey blanket you can’t sleep without, these Punks remain a consistent source of pleasure. Maybe it’s their sincerity and their complete disregard for pretense, but whatever it is, Dropkick Murphys continues to have it in spades. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Turn Up That Dial 5 of 5 stars.