The Dropkick Murphys will livestream on St. Patrick’s Day and release “Turn Up That Dial” next month. PHOTO BY KEN SUSI
Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor
Thanks to the Dropkick Murphys, we can still have St. Patrick’s Day in 2021. Last year, mere days after the pandemic began to impact the U.S., the popular Irish-American band rapidly transitioned their annual St. Patrick’s Day concert to an online format. It was a successful experiment, gaining 13 million views and features on CBS, NBC, and “The Late Show.” This year, DKM will air another live stream concert available to everyone, but with higher-production values, LED screens, and impeccable audio quality, so you can feel like you are right there in the front row (with the added benefit of avoiding messy crowds and spilled beer). DKM merely asks for voluntary donations to help fund their staff. But there is even more good news from the Dropkick Murphys to brighten up this challenging year: a new album.
This band’s (Ken Casey, Al Barr, Tim Brennan, Jeff DaRosa, Matt Kelly, James Lynch, Kevin Rheault, and Lee Forshner) music and career need no introduction. “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” featured in the film “The Departed,” is arguably one of the most recognizable songs of the 21st century. From “The Warrior’s Code” (2005) to their more recent “11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory” (2017), the Dropkick Murphys’ albums have taken on politics, history, rebellion and even topics like the opioid crisis. No matter the theme, their studio albums always provide that hardcore, gritty Irish-American sound that constitutes the very fabric of Boston’s Irish identity. Over the past two decades, the Dropkick Murphys have become an icon of Irish Americana, Boston and the cultural narrative of the Irish diaspora.
It is especially exciting, therefore, to see them make an album during our current, tragic and surreal historical moment. “Turn Up That Dial” is the Dropkick Murphys’ pandemic album, due to be released just in time to lift our spirits this April. Singer and DKM original member Ken Casey spoke honestly about his own challenges with the lockdown and how music helped break him out of his funk: “There were months where there was depression and emotions and shut down. That would be followed by ‘I gotta get out of my sweatpants and do something!’ And then huge creative bursts,” he said. The singer discussed how easy it is to negative news consume you, but, nevertheless, you have to “bounce back.”
That is exactly what “Turn Up That Dial” is—a bounce back. In compiling the album, the band sought an overall message of positivity, the “uplifting approach,” as Casey calls it. Because the band’s previous album addressing the opioid epidemic had been so somber, and because 2020 itself is, for many, the most somber year in living memory, Casey and the Murphys wanted to “give people a reason to have a smile on their face.” The album is energetic, tongue-in-cheek, filled with humor and stories of friendship. One of the introductory tracks, for instance, is entitled “Middle Finger,” which cheekily sets the tone for the rest of the record. Other energetic songs include the hard rock song “Smash Shit Up,” “Queen of the Suffolk County” and an homage to Boston, “City By the Sea.”
“Turn Up That Dial” is not just the album name, it is also a philosophy. As Casey explained, the album documents how inspiring and how ameliorative music can be. The title is a slogan, an invitation: turn up the dial, remember the music that shaped you, let it wash over you. Even Casey himself, writing and listening back to his own album, found himself nostalgically remembering the music of his teenage years and trading albums amongst friends. “There are songs on the album that take you away from 2020—suddenly I was 17 again,” he said.
The Dropkick Murphys’ latest creative project functions as a soundtrack to its historical moment. It resists the depression of the pandemic with powerful positivity and rebel humor. But the album is not tone deaf to what our country and our world have lost either. The album ends with a requiem, a ballad called “Wish You Were Here,” written by vocalist Al Barr as a tribute to his father. The song has taken on new meaning in the current context: it speaks of grief, of longing for the dead and it looks back to pay respect to all the people we have lost this past year. It is truly an anthem for 2020’s bereaved, accompanied by a stunning music video featuring home videos of Irish America in the mid-20th century.
At a time when it feels like we have lost so much, the Dropkick Murphys are stepping up to the plate to remind us of what we still have: the ability to laugh, to be irreverent, to blast music in our cars and, of course, to cry—while always remembering to get up off the couch. The true Irish way.
The Dropkick Murphys’ St. Patrick’s Day Livestream, entitled “Still Locked Down,” will air here on March 17 at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you make a donation, you will see your name on the bottom of the screen during the concert. Don’t celebrate alone this year; join millions in a virtual audience and be sure to turn up that dial. More information at dropkickmurphys.com.