“With Epitaph, there were no hard feelings, but we always felt like a square peg in a round hole being on a West Coast label,” says Casey — who’s also made damn sure there won’t be any major-label horror stories for his band [from Warners]. “It’s very much set in the contract. They do some of the good stuff, but they’re not allowed to do any of the bad stuff. We’re very early into it, but no one’s come and tried to put us in funny clothes or make us do a silly dance yet.”
“Or play them demos and say ‘We don’t like these songs,’ ” says Barr. “We’ve been calling all the shots.”
Not that one could ever imagine a situation similar, say, to the one that found Neil Young being sued by Geffen in the 1980s for releasing a string of middling, genre-hopping albums that the label deemed “unrepresentative” of his sound.
“We are what we are,” Casey says. “The AC/DC of Celtic punk rock.”
Barr echoes him. “We are who we are. You can’t polish a turd.”
He’s being modest. It’s a fair wager that Dropkick Murphys will not be releasing an alt-country album or a dub remix any time soon. They’re a band who simply do what they do. But they do it very, very well. And on The Meanest of Times they’re in fine fettle and fighting trim.
The CD starts with a bang. Or, rather, a bell. “Famous for Nothing,” a song Casey says is about “parochial life . . . being stupid enough to raise hell in the shadows of church and grammar school,” kicks off with a school bell before tearing into a ferocious, hurtling roar.
And if “State of Massachusetts,” an explosive number about a broken family whose kids are absconded with by the DSS, brokers the Celtic influence even more successfully than “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” then “Fairmount Hill” goes straight to the source, cribbing the melody from the traditional Irish ballad “Spancil Hill” for a stirring tribute to the locals who’ve stood by them.
“We’re not from Ireland, so it seemed fitting to give it a local spin,” Casey says. “And I get some good digs at friends in there.” (On The Meanest of Times, the songs are about all kinds of families, both good and bad.)
For the recording of “Flannigan’s Ball” a hard-charging, many-versed litany of drinking and dancing and donnybrooks, the band traveled to Ireland to record with the Pogues’ Spider Stacey (whose voice is gravelly) and the Dubliners’ legendary Ronnie Drew (whose voice sounds like gravel being puréed in a blender). The song is a stunner, with Casey and Barr trading verses with these two titans of Irish music, three generations demolishing Dorchester’s Florian Hall from across the broad Atlantic.
The collaboration was especially magnanimous of Drew, 74, who’d just lost his wife of more than 40 years and was in the midst of a pitched battle with throat cancer. “Most humble, greatest man I’ve ever met,” says Casey. “He took a cab over, took the train home. Said, ‘Whaddya want me to do, boys? I’ll do it a thousand times to get it the way you want it.’ It’s different for him. He’s not used to fast-paced songs, loud drums, and electric guitars. But in five minutes, he caught right on.”