On their seventh full-length studio album, Going Out In Style, Dropkick Murphys throw a new kind of party. It's a raucous and rollicking romp overflowing with punk rock energy, folk soul, and Irish spirit. Fueled by fiery riffs and unforgettable choruses, Going Out In Style traces the journey of Cornelius Larkin, whether it's the Irish immigrant's first person account of his own wake or the band's in depth interpretation of his life and lineage throughout the album's lyrics, it's the party to end all parties.
Dropkick Murphys have many reasons to celebrate. Since they first hit the scene in 1996, the Boston seven-piece have racked up record sales in excess of 3 million worldwide. Their smash hit single "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" exceeded platinum status and was featured in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award-winning film, The Departed. Their 2007 offering, The Meanest of Times, debuted in the Billboard Top 20, marking the band's highest chart entry to date and heralding the formal arrival of their independent label Born & Bred Records. The band has sold out shows worldwide and cultivated one of the most fervent fan bases in rock music. They even penned the theme song to the first Red Sox World Series win in 86 years. Going Out In Style, their latest on Born & Bred Records, is an opus that's both explosive and endearing.
Frontman Al Barr describes the band's evolution on record number seven. "As you progress in your career, you want to challenge yourself and never make the same record twice. This album was different because we were telling someone's story. Yes, it starts with a rowdy out-of-control wake. As the story goes back to explore the long life of the character Cornelius, we really started to become engrossed in the story and life of this man."
The character is Cornelius Larkin, and his story is the heart of Going Out In Style. Bassist and vocalist Ken Casey reveals, "Cornelius has passed on to the other side, and the album becomes a retrospective of his life. He's one of those guys who immigrated to America at 16, got drafted into the Korean War, married young, had nine kids, worked hard, and lived a full life rife with different characters, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations. Some of the stories are fictional, but most are odes to our grandparents, friends, and loved ones."
However, the Dropkicks felt that there was no way to tell a man's whole story in just 13 songs. In order to round that story out, the band enlisted the help of their friend, author Michael Patrick MacDonald [All Souls, Easter Rising]. MacDonald wrote an eloquent obituary for Cornelius Larkin in the album's liner notes, along with the beginnings of a more extensive narrative about the album's main character for listeners to delve into. MacDonald became immensely engrossed in the character's development, particularly as Cornelius began to take on elements of MacDonald's own family history. At that point, the story grew into a much longer saga that will be available on the band's website in conjunction with the album release–and the story could evolve into a book sometime in 2011.
Casey elaborates, "I wrote an outline which began leading to songs. At the same time, I wanted the obituary to have that author's flair, a little more description, a more detailed narrative, and a deeper story. Michael listened to the songs we'd written, and he fleshed out the story and really put a name and a face on the character. It's a unique approach and a unique partnership. The songs inspire the story, and the story inspires the songs. It's a deep record, and it celebrates a life."
The band recorded Going Out In Style with producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Flogging Molly, Lucero) in 2010 after an intensive period of writing collectively. Dropkick Murphys were most attracted to Hutt's work ethic. "He's definitely a workaholic," says Casey. "The story behind the song is just as important as any guitar tone or solo to him. Ted really gets it; he saw the overall vision the band had for the project. He blew me away."
The album's title track gave birth to Cornelius. It's a rousing celebratory anthem complete with guest vocals by NOFX's Fat Mike and The Living End's Chris Cheney. "Going Out In Style" roars with a gang-style refrain and simultaneously heartfelt and hilarious lyrics.
"We all have this romantic idea that our death will be like an international day of mourning, but that's not going to happen," chuckles Barr. "The song has two sides. There's a serious side recounting this Larkin's life, and then there are all of these fun parts about various women and characters. We knew we had a definitive start to the album with this song. There was a map being drawn."
That map became vibrantly colorful with the tender and heavy "1953." Built on an epic guitar melody and careening vocal harmonies, the track functions two-fold. Casey continues, "1953 was a significant year because it was when Cornelius got back from Korea and met his bride-to-be. It's somewhat of a love song for the women in our lives, but it has an old-time flair to it." Barr adds, "We're all married guys, and we hold that connection in high importance. It's about Cornelius, but the song extends to us. We wanted to conjure an image of lasting love."
Continuing their tradition of incredible guest collaborations, Dropkick Murphys enlisted the vocal talents of the legendary Bruce Springsteen for a rousing version of the old standard "Peg 'O My Heart." They met Springsteen when he attended one of the Murphys' New York City shows. Bruce in turn invited the band to his Boston show soon after, and ended up inviting the guys onstage for several songs. Guitarist Tim Brennan even proposed to his wife on stage at one of Springsteen's Boston performances. With the musicians' mutual appreciation for one another, the collaboration seemed only natural.
Casey explains, "It has a classic old fifties rock and roll feel, like something you could see Bruce pulling out of his hat when the crowd holds up signs requesting random songs at his shows. You could see the E Street band doing this in concert. It felt like a really appropriate song for him to put his two cents into. Both of my grandmothers are named Peg. One grandmother, Peg Casey, is always saying, 'When are you going to do that song? Your grandfather always sang it to me!' The time signature changed, so hopefully they still appreciate it when they hear it. I think getting Bruce on the track should seal the deal for me in terms of getting brownie points with my grandmas."
In addition to those brownie points, the collaboration is a perfect intergenerational bridge. Dropkick Murphys have always strongly resonated with audiences young and old due to their working class ethos and cathartic sonic revelry. This is simply further proof. "This guy's an icon," declares Barr. "He represents Americana, and over the years the band has incorporated that into our music. To have that is the biggest stamp of approval you can get."
Casey echoes that sentiment. "It links two generations. A Bruce fan who might have a teenage son or daughter might relate to their kids listening to us because there are similar themes, stories, and values running through it. We're spanning a lot of years of music here."
Another song that ties together the story of Cornelius and resonates with a larger audience is the powerful and poignant, "Memorial Day." Barr says, "It's a song that honors our grandparents' generation as well as Cornelius himself. There was something amazing about that time. They struggled through all kinds of adversity, and it's inspiring."
The band also found inspiration in the same clubs and scene that they emerged from over a decade ago. "Sunday Hardcore Matinee" directly references their own musical upbringing with a catchy chorus and raw riff. "That was a fun story to tell. You can't be out at shows every day now that you've grown up a little and have a job," Casey laughs. "But you'll always hold on to that feeling and connection you and your friends had from those days. It ties into Cornelius's story because his grandchild ends up very much involved in the rock and roll lifestyle."
Dropkick Murphys also remain an integral part of Boston's cultural identity. Not only are they the sound of the city's sports teams, but Casey also started a charity representing the band, called The Claddagh Fund. Since its formation in 2010, The Claddagh Fund has raised close to a half million dollars. "Boston is such a tight-knit community," says Casey. "We got involved with some charitable endeavors, and that inspired me to start something for us. I knew we could tap into so much more if we built a charity on behalf of the band and were able to incorporate the fans. We work with some great local charities and some in Ireland. It's nice to take a look at the bigger picture. That's the whole nature of the band—community. It's not bullshit because the fans step up for a good cause beyond the music."
Ultimately, it's all about evolution for Dropkick Murphys. Casey concludes, "Slow, steady growth is the key. We're fortunate enough that it's continued to grow. It's real, honest, and we put 110 percent into it. There's a bit of an underdog vibe not only from the stories but literally the band itself. It's a great feeling that fans respond the way they do. I feel like we won a contest sometimes."
That growth won't stop, and Going Out In Style signals the beginning of another chapter in Dropkick Murphys' own story. Barr leaves off. "I hope fans can listen to Going Out In Style with the same excitement we have. It's all about family and friends for us. No rock star crap. There's nothing convoluted about it. That translates, and the fans know. It's a beautiful thing, and I can't wait to introduce Cornelius Larkin to the world." — Rick Florino