Back when I was a wee lad,1 my middle school friends and I got really into Irish music. Or so we thought: the deepest we got was a few compilations my mom bought after horseback riding in Ireland and a well-loved Celtic Woman release.2 You could say that I liked the game, but didn’t watch the play-offs.
Fast-forward to the summer before my senior year of high school, when I’m first starting my love affair with the music world. I’d discovered Rise Against about eighteen months prior, and had bought the 2005 and 2006 Warped Tour compilations shortly before school got out.3 At this moment, I am on a fifteen-day canoeing excursion in northern Minnesota4 with seven or eight other guys. A few of them start to talk about bands, and one of them starts to sing “What’s Left of the Flag” by Flogging Molly. I like the song, and keep it in mind.
Upon arriving home, I head into Borders5 with a twenty dollar gift card.6 I’m torn at the music section: there’s Rancid’s Out Came the Wolves and Flogging Molly’s Drunken Lullabies. At the advice of a friend,7 I chose the latter. I had purchased maybe ten albums with my own money by this point in my life,8 so this is a big freakin’ deal for teenage me. I go home, start spinning, and listen to “What’s Left of the Flag” a solid ten or twenty times before giving any other track such a courtesy. It’s a solid moment in my personal history as a music nerd.
Seven years afterwards – and if the reactions of my coworkers as they come into the tent where I’m writing this are any evidence9> – Drunken Lullabies is really damn enjoyable.10 It’s not just nostalgia; Drunken Lullabies is a solid album of Pogues-esque Celtic-folk punk that, along with Swagger, is the highlight of Flogging Molly’s career. Fiddle plays a large part in Flogging Molly’s instrumentation, as do the acoustic guitar and flute. Every song is an anthem; Flogging Molly have enough backing vocals to fill a concert hall – and more – and they dare you not to shout along.
Drunken Lullabies is raucous fun that jams out with a stout and a smile, as on “May the Living Be Dead (In Our Wake)” and the sea shanty “Cruel Mistress;” it also has moments of surprising tenderness and maturity, as demonstrated by “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.” Hell, as silly as the title track is, one would be mistaken to interpret Dave King’s life philosophy as all fun and games upon listening to the lyrics.11
Speaking of King, his voice is nigh-identical to The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan. That fact will either make or break Drunken Lullabies – and by proxy, the entirety of Flogging Molly’s discography. The comparison is inescapable, but Drunken Lullabies is enough its own album that Flogging Molly doesn’t seem like they’re aping the greats. For one thing, Flogging Molly is way more of a “punk” band, in the contemporary sense: the instrumentation is far more rock-based with the directness of late nineties and early noughties Fat Wreck Chords/Side One Dummy punk.
Flogging Molly plays with the formula less than The Pogues; listeners won’t find the Clash-esque experimentation that latter band embodied on Rum, Sodomy and the Lash or If I Should Fall from Grace with God. This isn’t a bad thing, as Flogging Molly do the folk punk thing with aplomb. It’s just a difference between the two bands in their approach to the genre.
If you grew up with Flogging Molly, then give this album another listen. If you’ve not given them much of a listen, then Drunken Lullabies is a pretty good start. It is neither as serious as Float nor as autobiographic as Swagger, but it serves its purpose well: fist-pumping folk rock with a heart.
1. Drunken Lullabies – (3:50) – ★★★★★
2. What’s Left of the Flag – (3:38) – ★★★★★
3. May the Living Be Dead (In Our Wake) – (3:49) – ★★★★★
4. If I Ever Leave this World Alive – (3:21) – ★★★★★
5. The Kilburn High Road – (3:43) – ★★★★☆
6. Rebels of the Sacred Heart – (5:11) – ★★★★☆
7. Swagger – (2:05) – ★★★★★
8. Cruel Mistress – (2:57) – ★★★☆☆
9. Death Valley Queen – (4:17) – ★★☆☆☆
10. Another Bag of Bricks – (3:45) – ★★★★☆
11. The Rare Ould Times – (4:05) – ★★★☆☆
12. The Son Never Shines (On Closed Doors) – (4:24) – ★★★★☆
1We’re talking, like, 11.
3I’m not even sorry. Those compilations gave young-me with no allowance (except for odd jobs) fifty bands for a solid six dollars. That was heaven! They were my gateways into punk rock!
4Ely, to be exact. Shout-out to the Boundary Waters and BSA’s Northern Tier.
6Holy shitsnacks, Batman! Twenty whole dollars!
7Whom 16-year old me desperately wanted to fuck.
8Including a now much-loved copy of Minor Threat’s Complete Discography.
9We’ve been weathered-in for the past four days on the glacier. But tomorrow night, I get to shower! (And maybe publish this article!)
10This has to be the first time I’ve listened to the full album in, like, five years.
11Teenage-me used to update Facebook/MySpace with the quote “I find myself in the same old mess singing drunken lullabies” whenever I’d get out of a relationship. Teenage-me really thought he was a poet.12
12 I can’t believe I’m admitting that.