There are always those bands that you can count on to release variations of the same album over and over again. No matter how interesting it might be to hear artists try new instrumentation, it’s still comforting to know that when Bad Religion puts out a new album it will still sound like Bad Religion; It could be cool to see what happens when artists attempt genres outside of their wheelhouse, but it’s also just as cool to put on a new NOFX album and already feel like you’ve known the songs for years.
If you think I’m implying that 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, the latest album by Dropkick Murphys (and allegedly their first of two albums to be released in 2017), sounds like everything else the band has done, it’s because I am implying that. But if you also think like I’m implying that 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory somehow deviates from the Murphys’ usual trends, it’s because I am also implying that. And the weirdest thing is that they’re both correct statements.
First and foremost, this is most definitely a Dropkick Murphys album. There are shout-along choruses, songs about brotherhood, being kicked down, or standing together in the face of violence and fear, traditional covers, and just enough bagpipe. Anyone who has stuck with the band over the past decade and a half is sure to be on board with this. The band knows their strengths and have been playing to them since at least 2001. The album’s first single, “Blood,” alongside “Rebels with a Cause” and “Sandlot” form a strong first third of the album, with plenty of that DKM charm (here are the choruses of all three, respectively: “If you want blood, we’ll give you some straight from the heart til the job is done”, “We believed in you, we knew it from the start- hey kid! You’ve got heart!” and “We had it all when we were young”).
The true standout on 11 Short Stories, however, is the penultimate track “4-15-13.” Written as a tribute to the people of Boston, the song is a somber reflection of the titular day’s bombings committed during the city’s annual marathon. Rather than focusing on the actual bombings, the song turns inwardly at all the people who make up Boston and how, despite their differences, they’re all still Bostonians and they’re all still in this together no matter what life throws at them.
And yet, for all of its familiarities that make it a Dropkick Murphys album, 11 Short Stories still somehow feels a little different. The production isn’t quite as glossy as The Meanest of Times but it’s still not exactly The Gang’s All Here quality either. And the covers, while present, are in short supply, and not exactly what you might expect from the band. “The Lonesome Boatman,” which kicks off the album, is beefed up from its tin whistle-led original and not too surprising, but the album’s other cover, rather than being a traditional Irish jaunt like the band’s usual style, is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (for the uninitiated, the song is often associated with football clubs around the world, which might give a better context for how the band became familiar with the song, although bassist/vocalist Ken Casey also went on record to say that he was inspired to cover the song after finding solace in the lyrics as he was leaving a wake for a friend who died of an opiate overdose). The filler tracks here range in quality- “I Had a Hat” is kind of nonsensical but it’s still a fun, uptempo punk romp, but “First Class Loser” doesn’t accomplish much except for come off as a mean-spirited joke, which is bizarre in the face of the album’s other songs about standing together. The album’s final track, “Until the Next Time” is the oddest departure of the bunch, coming off as more of a Broadway sing-along than the actual Broadway tune.
Despite all of the over-analyzation, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is really just one thing: a Dropkick Murphys album. And in the long run, that’s all it really needs to be.
3.5 / 5