(As purveyors of the Modern Irish Music Scene, we here at Shite N’ Onions felt this release important enough to review twice. By the way, if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you may want to skip this and go directly to Brian Gillespie’s review ASAP)
As a life-long Star Wars fan, (not nerd, but fan, mind you) I’d liken the build-up to this release to the anticipation I felt upon hearing about “The Phantom Menace” for the first time. Pumped to say the least. The teasers came swiftly. The live staple “Rebels of the Sacred Heart” promised excitement upon first listen. News of the new album in progress spread across the ‘net. The Flogging Molly Club on Yahoo drummed up excitement for what seemed like years. And then – a release date, and no bonus points for originality here: St. Patrick’s Day.
Coming home with the album was like the lights dimming and preparing to watch Luacsfilms fuck with all that was sacred. This was Flogging Molly after all. “Swagger” was one of the reasons directly responsible for this site being created. So, did this album screw with past memories of glory like the putrid awfulness that was “The Phantom Menace?” Did this album contain a Jar-Jar Binks? I’m happy and relieved to respond with an earth-shattering “Feck No!”
In many ways for me, this release is “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” to “Swagger”s “Episode IV: Star Wars.” To sum up, a darker, more mature effort that I prefer to the original. You heard it. I think this album is better than “Swagger.” It’s not heresy or sacrilege. I just like the overall mood and atmosphere FM have created with this one. The band have all upped the ante, and they all sound top-notch. From Matt Hensley’s prominent accordion to Bridget Regan’s whistle/fiddle, they never sounded better. Dennis Casey, Nathan Maxwell and George Schwindt provide a helluva raucous noise any band would be proud of, and I’m very impressed with Robert Schmidt’s mandolin/bazouki/banjo playing as well. And then we have the vocal stylings and lyrical musings of Mr. King. To sum up his contributions, we turn to a line Dave himself once sang: I am the King and Long Shall I Reign! Well-said and damn right.
From the opening tunes of “Drunken Lullabies” it’s clear we’re back in familiar territory. “Ah, but maybe it’s the way we were taught/Or maybe it’s the way we fought/But a smile never grins without tears to begin/For each kiss is a cry we lost” laments vocalist Dave King. King sounds better on this release than he did on the last, more full of rage and pissed off. The lyrics and intonations seem angrier as well.
Highlights of the first, faster half of the album are many: “May the Living Be Dead (In Our Wake)”sets the plate but my fave of the opening side alternates between the aforementioned live staple “Rebels of the Sacred Heart” and the rollicking “The Kilburn High Road.”
The second half kicks off with the familiar oldie “Swagger” to get the pint a shakin.’ Side Two includes bass player Nathan Maxwell’s pinned sea-tale “Cruel Mistress” on which he also sings. To me, it sounds like the Pogues “Hell’s Ditch” era. Very impressive debut, sir. But, of course, it’s King whose lyrical mastery I marvel at, and cuts 9-12 are my favorite 4 straight on any album in sometime.
“Death Valley Queen” may well be my favorite cut on the record. Gotta dig the line: “So I found me a whore/With a face just like yours/After several gallons of porter.” And then to hear everything slow down as, after chastising for most of the song, King admits: “I have always loved you” is great, great stuff. “Another Bag of Bricks” treads musically along the same lines as the Pogues “Turkish Song of the Damned” and turns out excellent. The band flex their musical chops on this one. Different from anything I’ve heard out of FM. The old Irish traditional “Dublin in the Rare Ould Times” follows. It was originally written by Pete St. John has always been a favorite of mine, particularly the Dubliners version. FM start things out trad enough, with the slow intro, but this soon segues into a version three times as fast as I’ve heard. It, too, is untouchable.
The album ends on an acoustic (and I would guess autobiographical) note “The Sun Never Shines (On Closed Doors)” which seems to serve as a warning. It seems to say to the darkness of the record: don’t get caught up in it. You need light, hope and love in your life to survive. King gives us that ray of hope with the last tune.
So, in retrospect, the song gives us hope, as did the final scene in “Empire Strikes Back.” After all the darkness, after Solo had been kidnapped by Boba Fett and Darth Vader, after Luke gets his hand whacked off and Vader proclaims himself his father, we still have hope. We stills see Luke, Lando, Chewie and Leia getting ready to go after Solo and the Empire, and we knew all would be well. So, be well until FM’s “Return of the Jedi” my friends. But know this – this may be their greatest hour.
By Sean “The Wookie” Holland