Going Out in Style: Dropkick Murphys

Counting down the days until their legendary St Patrick's Day shows, Dropkick Murphys have released their seventh studio album Going Out In Style, under their own label Born and Bred Records. The Boston-based Irish punk folk rockers deliver yet another energetic outing, full of infectious anthems, foot stomping battle cries and lilting ballads - all injected with the rebellious spirit that the band has been known for throughout its 15 year history.


In essence, Going Out In Style is a concept album, tracing the journey of fictional Irish immigrant Cornelius Larkin. In the great Celtic tradition of storytelling, it offers some insightful and unexpected interpretations of a man's life and lineage.


Dropkick Murphys' singer Al Barr says the idea for the album was born when writing the title track - a first person account of Larkin's own wake.


" Going Out In Style was like the first song the band wrote for this record and we realised that upon writing it, that there was this character in this song and we thought that it would be cool to have the thread of this guy's life go through the record."


The character was further developed by author Michael Patrick MacDonald (All Souls, Easter Rising), who wrote an obituary for Larkin which appears in the album's liner notes.


"He's an immigrant. He fought for this country before he was even made a citizen. He fought in the war in Korea," Barr says. "Our rhythm guitarist - James Lynch - his grandfather went and fought in Korea, won a Purple Heart and came back and wasn't made a citizen for 5 more years. You know, so there's all kinds of our personal lives mixed in with this character as well."


Working with an overriding character narrative came naturally to the band though Barr acknowledges that there was no set formula. Some tracks have kept Larkin in the forefront, while others have him in the backburner.


"You've got songs like Broken Hymns which is obviously more a civil war era song. You know, a song that related to relatives who had gone through that same kind of thing – the union dying, people going back to Ireland - and that happened a lot in the civil war era. Then you have songs like Sunday Hardcore Matinee where it's like [Cornelius'] grandchildren would've grown up in Boston, in the 80's and would've definitely heard and been into punk rock, you know," he says.


For a studio recording, Dropkick Murphys have done well to capture much of the exuberant energy they are known to deliver in their live shows. Leading the charge with a fiery refrain and a searing bagpipe riff is the opener Hang ‘Em High. Rollicking tunes like The Hardest Mile and the title track chomp closely at its heels, as does the rousing Irish standard Peg O' My Heart, featuring guest vocals by Bruce Springsteen.


"I think everybody tries to get what they do live. They try to bottle that in the studio. Making that connection with an audience, and having that realness." Barr says, before making clear what not expect of the band live.


"We're not perfect. We're not performing to a track. It's not Britney Spears up there, it's not Christina Aguilera. You're talking about a bunch of dudes that play music and try to do the best they can. It's real. It's live. It's live, baby."


Though the record doesn't shy away from the band's political and social mindedness, there's lyrical and melodical buoyancy to this work that rescues it from being preachy.


"We're not teachers. If somebody learns something off one of our records, that's great. But we're definitely not teachers and we're not preachers. The last thing we want, as music fans, is someone stuffing ideas down people's throats. It's more like we want to tell a story".


In the lead up to the record's release, Dropkick Murphys have tapped into social networking and download culture by releasing exclusive video content and track previews on their Facebook page. A bonus track has also been made available for those who download the album on iTunes. It's a catch-22 for the band – by catering to a changing geography in the music industry, they diminish the chance to appreciate the album in its entirety.


"We've kind of turned this whole idea of a record around and when it's on ‘iTunes' it becomes kind of sterile thing. People download a record, but do they ever really listen to it? They're not looking at what the artist has really created. The cover, and the photos, and the lyrics and the credits, none of that, and it's kind of depressing," says Barr.


"I'm from the school that if a band puts a record together, I go buy it. I don't download. You gotta kind of do what you gotta do these days, you know what I mean? And that's a way for us to reach people, because that's what they're on. They're on this fucking Facebook. I hate fucking Facebook."


Computers, generally, command the kind of attention that Barr isn't willing to give. He's only recently begun using email, on a laptop his wife bought him when she tired of answering emails on his behalf.


"I was so proud in the cave" he jokes, "but they dragged this caveman out and threw a computer in his hands. I'm still in freakin' dirty caveman clothes!"


Barr's caveman clothes and facebook frustration hasn't deterred the band from licensing their music to other mediums in the past. I'm Shipping Up To Boston - from their 2005 record The Warrior's Code - was featured in the Martin Scorsese Oscar winning film The Departed, as well as an Australian Football League campaign. State of Massachusetts - from 2007's The Meanest of Times – is the theme track for the MTV series Nitro Circus.


Barr seems doubtful that the broad exposure of a few isolated tracks should be any reason for the band's fan base to expand.


"Definitely been people that have become aware of the band through these mediums, if you will. The thing is, I think just one song - I don't think that's enough for people to come see you. They gotta like more than that. I've definitely heard one song by a band I like and then gone ‘man the rest of this is crap' and I'm not going to buy the record for that one song. Its brought us new fans but I think those people have gotten into the band, hopefully, and are with us not just for Shipping Up To Boston or State of Massachusetts."


If Going Out in Style has anything to do with it, some new additions to the band's fervent following is inevitable. Celebrating triumph and tragedy, the album proves that Dropkick Murphys still have plenty more to offer.

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