Not much is guaranteed in this world. But one thing Dropkick Murphys singer Al Barr can promise is his band will never do anything halfhearted when it comes to making new music.
And two decades into the Dropkick Murphys’ career – a point where many groups fortunate enough to have that kind of longevity seem to be resting on the laurels of their back catalogs – the Dropkick Murphys sound as inspired and hungry as ever on their ninth studio album, the recently released “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory.”
“We’re lucky that we have such loyal and rabid fans across the world that come out and support us,” Barr said in a recent phone interview. “Without them, obviously, we’re nothing. Plus, we have our standards as well. There’s never been a time in the band where we have flipped on the autopilot and gone and taken a nap. We’re always driving this ship.”
Barr believes fans know when a band takes its foot off the creativity accelerator, and that’s all it takes to tarnish a career’s worth of good music and good deeds.
“Our old manager, Dianne Meyer, said many times ‘You can always make a bad record and people will buy it, but they won’t buy the one after it,’” Barr recalled. “And it’s hard to gain that trust back, especially once you’ve built that rapport with fans and they expect a certain quality of music from you. And then all of a sudden, if you mail it in, as it were, people go ‘Well, that’s insulting isn’t it?’ You could make your ‘White Album’ after that and it really wouldn’t matter. They wouldn’t buy it.”
The Dropkick Murphys obviously don’t want to do anything to blunt the momentum the band has generated. It’s been a long and continuous climb, and Barr said ticket sales to the group’s concerts indicate that the Dropkick Murphys fan base is still expanding. The group’s Aug. 19 concert at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium is sold out.
Formed in 1996 in Boston, the band worked hard and toured hard through its first decade, slowly but surely gaining an audience that liked the band’s rough-and-ready Irish-accented brand of punk
And in 2005, the group gained considerable notice nationally when the song “Shipping Up to Boston” was featured in director Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Oscar-winning film, “The Departed.”
When the 2007 album, “The Meanest of Times,” was released, it debuted at No. 20 on “Billboard” magazine’s all-inclusive Top 200 album chart, while a single, “The State of Massachusetts,” became a top 15 hit on “Billboard’s” Hot Rock Songs singles chart.
The momentum has only grown since then, as the band’s previous two studio albums, “Going Out in Style” (2011) and “Signed and Sealed in Blood” (2012), both debuted in the top 10 on “Billboard’s” Top 200 album chart.
“11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory” extended that streak, opening at No. 8 on the Top 200, and it’s being greeted as one of the strongest albums yet from the Dropkick Murphys.
The new album features plenty of raucous rocking anthems (“Blood,” “Rebels With A Cause” and “I Had A Hat”) that fit the Irish punk sound that has long defined the band. But there are a few curve balls as well. “Sandlot” echoes a bit of Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” with its driving beat, ringing guitar chords and determined spirit. “Kicked To The Curb,” a standout song on the album, is a different kind of rocker for the band, with a great stop-and-start guitar riff that’s plenty crisp, but a bit poppier than most of the group’s music. “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a cover of the 1940s Rodgers and Hammerstein song from the musical “Carousel,” gets a rousing Irish-tinged treatment.
The Dropkick Murphys also bring that sort of emotion to the live stage, and the group is currently on a run of dates with punk icons Rancid.
“Our mode is attack, attack the audience with our passion, our vim and vigor, if you will,” Barr said of the live show. “We just kind of light ourselves on fire, if you will, and hope for the best.”
The band, naturally enough, is playing several songs from the new album, but varying its career-spanning set list from show to show.
“We don’t go on a tour and just play the same set,” Barr said. “That’s kind of old for us and there are always people that like to follow us to multiple shows. We think about how boring that must be for them as well, so we like to challenge ourselves. So we like to throw in some of the older songs and we also, we have a 21-year career now and we go back as far as that sometimes, throw in some real old ones. It’s fun. We like to keep it interesting.”