Dropkick Classic Punk
Terrence E. Martau | Lakewood, Ohio United States | 05/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even if they'd never made another album, the Dropkick Murphys' reputation would be secure. Viewed through the prism of a decade since its release, "Do or Die" is still a great album.
Founded in 1996 by Mike McColgan (vocals) and his Boston area mates, Rick Barton (guitar and vocals), Ken Casey (bass and vocals), and Matt "Tough Sticks" Kelly (drums), the Dropkick Murphys played Celtic punk, merging the boys' Irish musical sensibilities with hardcore punk and rock (think Clash, AC/DC, and the Pogues). The resulting merge of poetry, heart, social awareness, and head-stomping rock is both fiercely effective and affecting.
"Do or Die" (recorded in the fall of 1997, released January 1998) opens with bagpipes, an appropriate Cadence to Arms before we plunge into the title track; Do or Die is a rallying cry: "The once steel tough fabric of the union man was sold and bartered away; fed to money wolves in the Reagan years; caught adrift in greedy nineties' days..." Following on, Get Up is another rallying cry, this time to the kids of all those working class fathers whose jobs were pissed away: "We all fall down. So get up now!" These "punks" won't waste their lives.
Never Alone is a boisterous declaration of tribal affinity, as Bostonians, blue collar Irish Americans, street kids, punks. After the first four rockers, the fifth song, Caught in a Jar is a stunner. McColgan and Barton write, "Now there comes a day in every man's life where decisions have to be made: whether to toil, to labor, or just plain piss your days away, away, away..." The chorus sounds like a cheer, but it's really a harsh caution about drinking your earthly despair to more permanent damnation: "Got a funny feeling that my times are caught in a jar; madness and insanity have arrived; know to Christ and everyone else my times are caught in a jar; Satan's grin is bearing down on me."
Wow! After that dose of reality it's time for some musical lemonade of the foot stomping variety. Memories Remain serves the need well. Road of the Righteous also rocks, but describes a path most would rather not take: putting a plug in your head in the hope that the wife and kids will be able to pay a few bills post demise.
Next, the band really kicks you in the head. A soldier in the first Gulf War, McColgan writes and sings a lament that echoes from WW I to present day: "Here in the trenches the fist of the Beast, for fear of an atmosphere poisoned deceased, with a gas mask to keep me from breathing my death, it's American soil I hope for at best..."
The Dropkick Murphys rev up again though with one of their best rockers ever, Fightstarter Karaoke, Ken Casey and Rick Barton reminding everyone that back home we're all in this together, "It doesn't take a big man to knock somebody down, just a little courage to lift him off the ground!"
A portrait of the neighborhood's sad/tough drunk, likely one of many in Dropkick Murphy land and yours, Barroom Hero strikes home. The album then falls off for a couple songs, with 3rd Man In and Tenement Enemy #1 failing to catch ear or mind - until Finnegan's Wake roars the listener back to attention, Dropkick Murphy style.
Noble fondly recalls the boys' friend Rob Noble, "cut down in a brutal fight". The album ends with Boys on the Docks, a rousing Casey & Barton tribute to Boston's John Kelly, and Skinhead on the MBTA, an update of the classic "Charlie on the MTA" with suitable punk sensibility - this time it's a skinhead stuck on the train.
Altogether, "Do or Die" is a superb album, one that measures favorably with the genre's best, from producer/engineer Lars Frederickson's (Rancid) "And Out Come the Wolves", which preceded the Murphys' "Do or Die" by a couple years, to Social Distortion's "White Light, White Heat, White Trash" or Flogging Molly's "Drunken Lullabies". Big-time Clash fans, the Dropkick Murphys would also be glad to know they made Joe Strummer proud.
McColgan moved on after this studio debut to try his hand as a Boston firefighter before forming Street Dogs, while the Dropkick Murphys continued on in fine form with singer Al Barr (guitarist Rick Barton eventually left, too.) Both continue to put out top-notch punk. Pick up the Dropkick Murphys' "The Gang's All Here" or "Sing Loud, Sing Proud"; also try Street Dogs' debut "Savin Hill" or 2006's "Fading American Dream".