Millionaires marks the second full-length studio album from Continental, perhaps best known as the project fronted by former Dropkick Murphys’ guitarist Rick Barton and featuring his son, Stephen, on bass. As Rick and I discusses during an interview last year, the band’s first album, 2012’s All A Man Can Do, grew out of a decade’s worth of material that he had been perpetually writing and recording.
While All A Man Can Do was certainly a solid album, it’s an understatement to note that a lot of bands are capable of putting out a solid debut album, particularly with such a deep well from which to draw. The trick for any band, and the area in which so many fall short, is to pen a follow-up that build’s off the band’s earlier sound, establishes an identity, and creates a compelling reason for listeners to come back. For any of you were concerned that ol’ Barty and the gang may have lost a couple miles an hour off their respective fastballs (or, worse, that they should stick to painting houses), rest assured that Millionaires, the band’s sophomore album, is better in almost every way than what came before it.
Fans looking for Continental to become Dropkick Murphys Lite will be sadly let down, as Continental occupies more of the Wilco/Frank Black and the Catholics end of the spectrum. Album opener “She’s Gone” has the sort of sound that makes it a quick staple in the band’s live set, an uptempo, riff-driven rocker about a love gone by. Track’s like “She’s Gone” are textbook examples of Rick Barton’s songwriting wheelhouse circa 2014. The big, swampy guitar riff reminds me of the opening track to the last Chris Wollard + The Ship Thieves album (and if you’re aware of my love for the latter band, you’ll understand that that’s high praise). “21st Century” follows and, after stumbling initially out of the blocks, quickly picks up speed and becomes one of the album’s stronger tracks.
The rockabilly-infused “Punk Rock Girl” and the rollicking good time that is “Fun Fun Fun” are other examples of well-crafted, not-too-polished rock songs that, again, are Barton’s recent trademark. And while those songs may be among the album’s highlights, Barton has also polished his mid-tempo crooner game. “Busted” starts simply, just Barton’s baritone accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar. As the band joins in, we find our songwriter at perhaps his most vulnerable on the album.
As a songwriter, the elder Barton is at his best when he turns the mirror inward. At 53, Barton has long made a name for himself as being more than willing to speak his mind and boldly emblazon his heart on his sleeve. On “Busted,” he acknowledges that he has, at times, been “dumb more than (he has) been smart.” The line about having “never dealt with consequences/I can’t think of one for instance” is rich with double meaning. As the song builds toward it’s anthemic chorus, Barton seems to be coming closer to a little bit of ever-elusive clarity and serenity, becoming more and more comfortable not only in his own skin but in allowing other people to exist in theirs.
Perhaps the largest steps forward on Millionaires are in Barton’s vocal chops and on the younger Barton’s ability to build a stable bottom end. The elder Barty’s baritone is unique and able to occupy several ranges, some more expertly than others. Whether it’s the low end of the range, like in the opening lines of “Busted,” or the carnival-barker-esque qualities he portrays in songs like “Wasted” and “Millionaires,” Rick’s voice is stronger than it’s been in quite some time. The introspective lyrics and the elevated vocal game, in my opinion, began in early-2014’s FM359 project that features Barton alongside fellow former Dropkick Murphy Mike McColgan and the latter’s current bandmate Johnny Rioux (see: “I Saw The Light“).
While Millionaires is certainly not flawless (the opening couple lines in “She’s Gone” seem a little clunky, “21st Century” and it’s slow start, the lack of a bona fide lead single), it more than raises the proverbial bar from All A Man Can Do, and will hopefully be the kind of album that is able to elevate the band from part-time in-between-painting-jobs status to full-time working band status (if that’s, in fact, what the goal is), or at least helps convert the descriptors that low-level rock journalists (like yours truly) use for the elder Barton from “former Dropkick Murphys guitarist” to bona fide Continental frontman.