Tons of great bands subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. AC/DC is a great example of this. AC/DC’s most recent two albums sound exactly the way AC/DC albums should sound, and they’re not terrible. Some would argue that there’s nothing special about them, but “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” certainly could go toe-to-toe with a number of songs off of Back In Black. Boston’s Dropkick Murphys have always been viewed as a band with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. That doesn’t mean that their formula is unbreakable though, and 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is certainly broken.
It’s not so much that Pain & Glory is a terrible album, but it is a disappointing one to say the least. At its best, it sounds like a collection of Dropkicks songs that got left on the cutting room floor. At its worst, it’s a terrible corny caricature of how the Boston punks should sound. The best of the album can be heard during the first four songs, but each has its own mountains that it fails to climb. The album opens with “The Lonesome Boatman,” which sounds like a classic Murphys song, but a minute and fourteen seconds in, it becomes evident that the only lyrics the song has are “oh’s” and “whoa’s,” which on an album that promises eleven short stories, seems like a cop out. Nonetheless, this will probably sound great live. “Rebels With A Cause” isn’t terrible, but the premise of the story is two young misfits falling in love, and it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Blink-182’s “The Rock Show” works better for the premise, because it at least sounds genuine. “Blood” sounds fine, but the chugging, mid-paced riff isn’t the mosh-inducing Dropkick anthem that has come to be expected as a first single. The chorus of “If you want blood, we’ll give you some” is unbearably dull. “Sandlot” is the album’s best song, but lyrically, it just sounds like your dad reliving his glory days, talking about how much fun he used to have with little money, for the ninth time over Sunday dinner. Then Papa Ken Casey and the gang just get lazy.
The rest of the album just sounds like lackluster stadium-rock. Most of the songs just blur together to the point that they’re just unlistenable. It’s like listening to a sad, tired version of Springsteen. “I Had A Hat” could be fun, but the premise is, for lack of a better word, dumb. The verses are composed of verbal diarrhea, and the chorus is lyrically lazy. Lyrics aren’t necessarily what people tend to remember from the Dropkicks, but it’s downright disgusting how lazy they are here. “First Class Loser” and “Kicked to the Curb” are both sad excuses. “Loser” tells the story of “a bully, a jerk…that you just can’t tune him out, cause he’s too loud to ignore,” and once again, it sounds like some corny crap your dad would say after a bad day in the office. “Kicked to the Curb” is a break up song, with all the clichés of losing money, begging to be brought back, and being wound up over it. There’s a difference between keeping a winning formula and sounding formulaic.
The album’s penultimate song is a bit of a saving grace. “4-15-13” is a folk song that references those lost and affected by the Boston Marathon Bombing. Casey sings about the loss of innocence, but also the unity that a tragedy can bring. It’s a solemn moment that sounds incredibly vulnerable, and it shows when the Dropkicks fully put their guts in a song, it works well. That being said, the album closes with “Until the Next Time,” which sounds like a bad showtune, telling how they’ve “had a good time and are sad to see it end.” Al Barr sounds bored as he howls the notes, and this may be the best moment to sum up the whole album. If it ain’t broke, you may not need to fix it, but it doesn’t mean you should just repeat it either.
James Crowley is on Twitter.