On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs went off during the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding over 250 others. In response to this act of terrorism, Boston pulled together in such a strong way: there was an outpouring of support for the police officers, unofficial memorials left at the site grew so big they had to be moved, the city banded together under ‘Boston Strong’ in an outpouring of love, care and helping each other.
I’m telling you all this for context: the Dropkick Murphys have always been intrinsically tied to Boston and 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory is their first album released since the Boston Marathon bombings. As such, there’s almost a burden of expectation on their shoulders, which the Dropkick Murphys navigate with class, restraint, and ease.
11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory is very much a Dropkick Murphys album. It rests comfortably in the musical style that’s come to be associated with them: loud, punchy rock and roll with Celtic influence, mixing bagpipes with bass guitar. They aren’t afraid to be loud, be obnoxious, or have fun. These are songs to be sung along with, out of key, as you go from bar to bar on a pub crawl–in the case of the first song off the album, “The Lonesome Boatman,” the song doesn’t even have words, the vocal line being a wordless easily singable pseudo-football chant accompanied by pulsing guitars and piercing pipes. This is a song you jump up and down to while trying not to spill your beer. There’s not much new brought to the table musically, but as 11 Short Stories is the band’s ninth album, that can be forgiven. They’ve spent plenty of time perfecting their sound and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The first single off the album, “Blood,” shows that philosophy entirely. It is very much a Dropkick Murphys song, dropping you into the bagpipes and guitars from the first few seconds in. The Dropkick Murphys aren’t a violent band exactly, but much like the stereotype of Irish Bostonians as a whole, they project the image of someone who’s not afraid to get dirty if needed (hilariously explored in the song “First Class Loser”). “If you want blood / we’ll give you some,” the band sings, over a backing chant of “Blood! Blood!” “Blood” is a wonderfully raucous song about overcoming odds and not conforming to what’s expected, a perfect if expected first single for the band.
The song that critical reception will undoubtedly focus on is “4-15-13”, written about the Boston Marathon bombings. Don’t view this as a cynical cash-in: the Dropkick Murphys went above and beyond the call of duty for their city, raising over $100,000 for those injured in the bombings as well as visiting the injured in the hospital. Wisely, the Dropkick Murphys resist the urge to play the song slow and dirge-like, instead pushing it along at a moderate pace. Another wise move—there are relatively few references to the actual event. The song never refers to the bombing by name, the only direct reference being a mention of Patriot’s Day, the holiday on which the bombings took place. The majority of the lyrics emphasize that the universality of how “we’re all just people” as well as memorializing those killed in the attack. “We lost our innocence today,” the band sings, singing for Boston as a whole.
Perhaps the most unexpected song on the album (as well as my absolute favorite) is a version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical Carousel. Member Ken Casey stated that the inclusion of the song is to be a voice of support to those suffering from opiate addiction. The song is delivered in typical Dropkick Murphys style: raucous and fun, a stark contrast to how it’s normally delivered. Unless it’s performed as a football anthem, the song is usually performed in a theatrical, overly serious manner, covered by artists such as Andre Rieu and Josh Groban. The Dropkick Murphys interject some well needed fun and togetherness to this well-worn classic, breathing new life into the song. There’s so much pep and unity in this version that when when the chorus kicks in, with practically the entire band hoarsely singing “you’ll never walk alone,” I believe it 100%. A perfect addition to an album that’s a bit predictable, but damn good as a whole.