Sound — 8
Having been fifteen years since Flogging Molly's breakthrough album, "Drunken Lullabies," where the eponymous song became the band's signature of fleeting punk rock embellished with Celtic melodies, Flogging Molly have slowly but surely grown to offer more than what they're best known for. With their following third album, 2004's "Within a Mile of Home," adapting different music influences into their Celtic punk instrumentation, 2008's "Float" and 2011's "Speed of Darkness," would start to branch out from the punk energy, trying out hard rock and softer, ballad songwriting.
Though it's been six years since Flogging Molly released an album, that long stretch of recording inactivity wasn't a result of bandmate troubles, label issues, or writer's block. In fact, quite the opposite - frontman Dave King had clarified that an extensive focus on touring for all those years was why the band had taken so long to finally sit down and make a follow-up to "Speed of Darkness." But now bringing forth their sixth album, "Life Is Good," Flogging Molly pick up where they left off in the steady maturing of their Gaelic-inspired sound.
More than anything, "Life Is Good" shows Flogging Molly focusing more on their folk side than their punk side. With King and his acoustic guitar being the primary drive of songs, the band's Celtic arrangements of accordions, fiddles, and banjos hold more melodic weight, whether in the somber songs, like "The Last Serenade (Sailors and Fishermen)" and the eponymous song, or in the uplifting songs, like the lush opener "There's Nothing Left Pt. 1," the perky "Until We Meet Again," or the rousing buildup of "Reptiles (We Woke Up)." Even in moments where electric guitars come into play, they practice more restraint, letting songs like "The Guns of Jericho" and "Hope" reach powerful crests by way of folksy singalong rather than amp gain.
Nevertheless, Flogging Molly still dish out some rock energy in "Life Is Good," which feels more special when not being the fundamental appeal of the album. The handful of Celtic punk cuts offered are fine enough, whether it's the by-the-book "The Hand of John L. Sullivan" and "The Bride Wore Black," or the hint of ska influence laced into "Welcome to Adamstown," but the best moment of loudness on the album is heard in "Crushed (Hostile Nations)," where the gang-chant hook fits the stomping rock song like a glove.
Lyrics — 8
Going hand in hand with a maturing of sound, King's lyrics in Flogging Molly's later albums have been a lot more politically-conscious and, in effect, quite grim. King still has some tough observations in "Life is Good," like the tenuous rebuilding of community in "Welcome To Adamstown," and xenophobia in "Crushed (Hostile Nations)," but for the most part, King's lyrics in the album live up to the positive title. While part of this is indulged with more lighthearted topics, like befriending a legendary boxer in "The Hand of John L. Sullivan," or the song for a charmingly sharp wife in "The Bride Wore Black," King's best cases of positivity are those that pierce through the hardships of life. The resilience of humanity shines in "Reptiles (We Woke Up)" ("For once in this life / Let's just make these wrongs right and then seize the day") and "Hope" ("I said hope is still a shout away / So away we shout once more"), the power of song immortalizes those that have passed in "Last Serenade (Sailors and Fishermen)" ("So goodbye to you dreamers, vagabonds and true believers / Long may you sing once again"), and, most personally, the eponymous song was directly inspired by the last words King's mother said to him on her death bed ("Come to me here / Whisper in your ear / 'Oh, enjoy yourselves, I know I surely did").
Overall Impression — 8
Being their first album after an elongated period, "Life Is Good" doesn't act like a simple return to form, but more like the mark of a new phase for Flogging Molly's catalog. While its Celtic punk moments will always be a cornerstone, the album stands out from the band's previous albums with its strongest appeal to folk music yet - both in its focus on rich acoustic melodies, and singalong-worthy hooks. Pairing that robust folksiness with their tried-and-true punk energy, "Life Is Good" is easily Flogging Molly's most well-rounded album.