Sound — 8
There is no shortage of Celtic pride on the Dropkick Murphys' latest release The Meanest Of Times, which calls upon the band's usual blend of bagpipes, guitars, and elaborate storytelling with a punk twist. And after getting a huge dose of publicity for their featured song in The Departed, the Dropkick Murphys should likely see a huge surge in popularity with their 6th release. If you were a fan of the song used in the film (I'm Shipping Up To Boston), then you can expect to be highly satisfied by nearly every minute of The Meanest Of Time. The bulk of the material is more than just your usual punk rock and often leans toward the Celtic influence more than anything. So when they add guest appearances by other Irish music veterans as The Pogues and The Dubliners, you pretty much crave St. Patrick's Day. The Meanest Of Times marks the band's first independent release on Born & Bred Records, and the change seems to have sat well with them. On the 15-track CD, there is rarely a dull one in the bunch. At times they might veer toward a more traditional punk sound in songs like Surrender, and while that's not a bad thing, the band is at it's creative peak when the bagpipes or mandolin come to the forefront. Luckily, you get plenty of the Celtic touch on the record, both musically and lyrically. (F)lannigan's Ball is the most memorable track for many, in that it sounds like it could be sung at any Irish pub by a group of crusty, yet loveable individuals. One of the first voices you hear is Spider Stacy of The Pogues, who truly seems like he's from another time and place. The grittiness in his voice starts out the tune perfectly, while the bagpipes (played perfectly by Scruffy Wallace) and guitar add that extra something to the mood. You even hear what sounds like a banjo midway through, and that earthy instrumentation adds the perfect touch to the tale being told in (F)lannigan's Ball. The Dropkick Murphys aren't getting soft on us, however. Tomorrow's Industry feels like it could inspire revolution with Al Barr's gritty vocals and the overall anthem-like sound to it. Never Forget inspires the same sort of mentality and it's the kind of song that should absolutely be a sing-along in some seedy bar. There's quite a different approach to the socially or politically charged songs, but the aggression delivered in those songs is equally effective.
Lyrics — 9
It's impossible to get bored by the lyrics on The Meanest Of Times. Besides the impressive command that Al Barr and Ken Casey have whenever they sing, many of the songs truly feel like stories that keep you engaged until the end. (F)lannigan's Ball is probably the most obvious example, with a descriptive storyline revolving around an elaborate party that reaches a peak as well as a decline. But Famous For Nothing makes just as big of an impression, discussing everything from the bells of St. Mary to the familiar topic of alcohol all in the course of a few lines. If you were raised an Irish Catholic (or any Irish roots for that matter), it's impossible not to feel some sort of camaraderie.
Overall Impression — 9
The Dropkick Murphys prove they are a multifaceted band with The Meanest Of Times, not hesitating to explore a slower melody or even the topic of departed friends (God Willing). The band gets bonus points for it's creative spin on a Civil War melody with Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya." Flogging Molly still may be the reigning Celtic punk band of the land, but the Dropkick Murphys have proven themselves to be the next in line for the throne. All of the tracks, which are usually brief and to the point, rarely get redundant or lag in energy. Even if I'm Shipping Up To Boston would not have had a prime spot in The Departed, I would still predict great things for The Dropkick Murphys.