Writer Sarah Dollard aptly described “Galway Girl” by Ed Sheeran as “that fiddly dee Oirish girl song.” Those words can be applied to almost any sort of genre crossover involving Celtic music: artists want the work to draw from the history and instrumentations of the Celtic music genre, but not sound too stereotypically Irish. Thankfully, Flogging Molly bridges the genre gap wonderfully, bringing together Celtic stylings and hard rock aspects in a beautifully even Celtic punk sound.
It should come as no surprise that Flogging Molly is adept at the genre: the band’s been together for around twenty years. In their sixth studio album, Life is Good, Flogging Molly show that they’re a master of the Celtic punk sound, giving us twelve well-polished tracks. Some songs lean more towards the ‘Celtic’ than the ‘punk’ but the overall well-written feel of the album and amazing production keeps everything from being too uneven. It’s not play by numbers, because that turn of phrase carries with it derision and while the album isn’t amazing, it is downright solid. Life is Good is simply, well, good.
Lyrically, the songs are all over the place, as love songs sit next to salt of the earth songs about working men which then sit next to hard drinking party songs. Despite the wide variety of lyrics and subject matter, the sound is very unified. This unification works against the album as well. Though everything sounds good and everything is technically polished, there are very few stand-out songs. Nothing’s particularly amazing or particularly awful.
If I had to pick a stand-out, it would be “The Hand of John L. Sullivan,” a loud and boisterous tribute song about an American boxer. “Hands” hits all the spots a proper pub tribute song needs to be: fast-paced, singable, and frenetic, but with a slow spit in the middle for everyone to raise their pints and drink to Sullivan himself. The pounding bass and hard rock guitar steals the show.
For all of Flogging Molly’s hard edges, they bring a sincerity to songs that need it. Songs like “Hope” and “The Last Serenade (Sailors and Fishermen)” are sung beautifully straight and beautifully sincere. The lyrics might err on the hokey side at certain points, but Flogging Molly sells it one hundred percent. Particular note needs to be paid to “The Last Serenade” just because the song is structured so beautifully. As one could guess from the title, it’s a sad song, though more along the lines of a bittersweet wake. The highlight comes in the last third of the song, where syllabic chanting in the background mixes with a repeated refrain, perfect for sing-alongs. Everything builds up to a beautiful crescendo of sound before it smoothly dissipates. If it isn’t a concert staple already, it will be soon.
Whether you’re a new fan or someone who’s been following the band for a while, I’d recommend giving Flogging Molly’s latest a try. While there are some parts where the album fails to rise above and others that I desperately wish were more memorable, it’s overall a fun ride and a good listen. The band knows what they’re doing and they can do it pretty well.