Signed and Sealed in Blood, the new album from the Dropkick Murphys, is the latest in a discography filled with Celtic-infused punk for the working class. Expanding on the band’s 2011 album Going Out in Style, the album features a mix of ballads and rockers that should please longtime fans. Where Going Out in Style was a concept album about a fictional musician, Signed and Sealed in Blood eschews any attempt at a storyline, instead opting for a record that is heavy on themes of regret and nostalgia. It’s a fine record that doesn’t necessarily break the mold, but still reinforces the Dropkick Murphys as the standard for Celtic punk.
The band opens with “The Boys Are Back,” a song that feels like something of a mission statement. “The boys are back and they’re looking for trouble” bellow singers Al Barr and Ken Casey as bagpipes and a rolling drum beat set the vibe before exploding into a punk fury that is sure to get the pit moving. It’s a strong opening that sets expectations for a raucous record that never truly appears. Instead, the Dropkick Murphys take it down a notch with “Prisoner’s Song,” a stomping tune that not so subtly recalls their popular rendition of “Shipping Up to Boston.” The song is fine and it works in the context of the album, but it kicks off a record that veers frantically through every style of music the Murphys have ever touched on.
For a band known for their punk sensibility and love for rock bands like AC/DC, it’s the quieter moments on Signed and Sealed in Blood that really stand out. “Rose Tattoo” is one of the best songs the band has ever recorded, with a dirge-like quality and sing-a-long chorus, it’s a nostalgic piece that sounds like a surefire fan favorite. The Murphys continue their fascination with Massachusetts lore with “Jimmy Collins Wake,” a song detailing the funeral of a Boston Red Sox manager during the early 20th century. Then, there’s “The Season’s Upon Us” a silly Christmas song that feels out of place in the middle of the record. It’s not a bad song, but it would’ve been better off as a standalone single or a secret song at the end of the album. It temporarily kills much of the momentum of Signed and Sealed in Blood. By the time the album ends with the trilogy of “Out on the Town,” “Out of Our Heads,” and “End of the Night,” much of that momentum has been regained, though the album never truly recovers.
In the two years since Going Out in Style, the Dropkick Murphys have made headlines standing up for union workers in Wisconsin and performing with the great punk validator, Bruce Springsteen, at a concert in Fenway Park. With that in mind, Signed and Sealed in Blood feels like a victory lap for a hardworking band that has finally made it big. There’s nothing groundbreaking or original here, just a strong set of songs from a band that has made a career out of being solid and steady.