Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 13: Dropkick Murphys, "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight"

Artist: Dropkick Murphys
Song: "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight"
Album: Blackout
Year: 2003

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Good bands are aware of their musical roots and will speak of them when asked.  Great bands will take these influences, however diverse, and work them into their sound, often in brilliantly subtle ways.  While many are quick to write off the entire genre as a style for this with sub-par musical talent, as the decades have passed, the great bands of the punk movement continue to prove such an assumption completely false.  Though many punk-style bands of the modern music era have clearly lost sight of the true roots of the genre, there are thankfully a handful of bands that stay true to the originators, and there is little arguing that one of the finest examples of this can be found within the music of Boston's own Dropkick Murphys.  For well over a decade, the band has been bringing their signature blend of hardcore mayhem and Celtic influence to the masses, and their albums continue to get more impressive with each year that passes.  Though it may not be as rough or gritty as their earlier releases, few can argue the overall quality and impact of their 2003 album, Blackout.  No less edgy than their other albums, it is on this recording that the group is clearly in top form, as their distinctive musical approach is perfectly focused, and their ever-present brand of humor is also present.  However, it is also on Blackout that the group pulls off one of the most overlooked, yet stunning moments in the entire history of punk rock, and it can be found in the form of Dropkick Murphys' 2003 song, "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight."

As is the case with a majority of Blackout, the song revolves around the superb bass playing of Ken Casey.  Following the "air raid" opening, Casey drops in with one of the most aggressive and energizing bass progressions in recent history, and it immediately sets the tone for the entire song.  As the rest of the band comes into the song, one can hear that while the trademark musical assault that "is" Dropkick Murphys is abundantly present, there is a far more controlled sound to their playing.  This is the sign of a band maturing, and it also shows the excellent production work done by Jim Siegel.  One of the most distinctive and impressive aspects of all of the recordings of Dropkick Murphys is the pummeling dual-guitar sound from James Lynch and Marc Orrell.  Needing little more than a handful of chords, these two players set the tone for an all out musical melee, and one can easily feel the mood of their live performances through this aspect of the music.  Drummer Matt Kelly gives "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight" a very unique sound, as he pushed out multiple tempos, as there are almost playful, brief breakdowns scattered throughout the song.  The combined sound of the musicians is what makes Dropkick Murphys so fantastic, as there is never a moment where one can accuse them of "going pop" as may of their peers have, and the aggressive, powerful sound of their music is what makes "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight" such a standout song.

If there is one aspect that has defined the sound of Dropkick Murphys throughout their career, it is the gritty, growling shout of Al Barr.  Never caring for things like pitch or tone, the brilliance behind the vocals of Barr has always lived in the attitude and energy he brings to every song.  Yet as aggressive and "in your face" as his performances are, it is easy to hear his vocals as more akin to those done by Operation Ivy as opposed to Black Flag style vocals.  Regardless of their lineage, Barr never makes any apologies for his vocal approach, and it is in this raw sound where a majority of songs by Dropkick Murphys become nothing short of anthemic.  However, there is one massive difference that sets "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight" far apart from nearly every other punk song ever recorded.  Though the lyrical arrangement is original, the lyrics themselves come from what many see as an extremely odd source: Woody Guthrie.  The song is actually an unrecorded lyric Guthrie wrote in the prime of his own career, and its presence within the music of Dropkick Murphys shows their own solid knowledge of their musical roots, as well as giving strong support to the idea that Guthrie was "the first punk."  The other mind-blowing aspect of the lyrics is how perfectly they fit into a modern context.  Speaking of the ills of war and greed, they are just as applicable now as they were then, and the fury with which Barr delivers the words certainly does justice to the spirit of Guthrie.

When it comes to completely authentic, "no b.s." punk rock, few bands in the current music scene bring it better or more constantly than Dropkick Murphys.  Notorious for some of the wildest, but most enjoyable live shows on the planet, they have shown over the past few years that they are only getting better as their career progresses.  This idea was solidified in the form of their 2003 album, Blackout, which contains examples of everything that makes the band so far beyond their peers in every aspect of making music.  On "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight," one can not only experience the forceful fury that is Dropkick Murphys, but the fact that they are working with a lyric by Woody Guthrie gives the band an instant amount of respect.  Furthermore, the fact that they are able to take such a sacred writing and do it great musical justice is a testament to their talents as musicians, as well as their understanding of everything Woody Guthrie stood for.  Sadly, the true lineage of the song is likely lost amongst a majority of their audience, but this in no way detracts from the phenomenal performance the band gives on their recording.  From the punishing guitar work to the lightning-fast bass playing, the song never lets the energy down for a moment, and the in-your-face vocals from Al Barr serve as the perfect compliment to the music.  In every aspect, Dropkick Murphys show why they are without question one of the finest bands of the current generation of punk rock, and they proudly hold the torch of punk aloft on their superb 2003 song, "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight."

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