I’ve long been a fan of Dave King’s Flogging Molly and even longer been a fan of Dave King’s vocals since the first time I saw him onstage way, way back in a band called Fastway – the band he fronted along with members of Motörhead, UFO and Humble Pie. Between that and Flogging Molly (who turn 20 this year – where does the time go?) he also managed to put out one of my favourite albums of the early 90’s fronting a band called Katmandu, but all that hard rocking past is water under the bridge.
Flogging Molly is just one of those bands that defies description – you’ll love them or you’ll hate them I guess. Musically they take traditional Irish Folk music as a jumping off pint and ‘punk it up’, rather like Gogol Bordello did later with their Eastern European roots. It’s music to love, music to dance to, music to drink to and music that is full of life and reflective of all its ups and downs. Add a daub of the Blues and you just about have it.
‘Life is Good’ is the band’s sixth album in their 20 year history, and comes 6 years after their last album ‘Speed of Darkness’ which hit the number 9 spot on the Billboard chart and tackled the thorny subject of the GFC. It beggars the question why it took so long to follow up on that success? Has life been just peachy since then? Judging by the fiery lyrics maybe not!
Last year of course saw Flogging Molly’s first new music in 5 years – when in March they released the single (that appears here) ‘The Hand of John L Sullivan’ – a song about the first gloved heavyweight boxing champion known as the ‘Boston Strong Boy’. It’s a song that sits nicely in this collection of drunken Irish raucous melodies replete with their razor sharp political and social observations. Ireland it seems is about the only country in the Word these days you can be patriotic about without feeling the weight of the PC Police. It’s in itself a nice irony for those who don’t wear green and a given for those who do. Flogging Molly therefore (thank God) can get away with a lot more than your average band.
‘Life is Good’ is a grand album, full of all you want from music – passion, vim, vigour, moments of bile and moments of beauty. Opener ‘There is Nothing Left Pt.1’ opens with gentle guitar and fiddle and feels almost nautical and becalmed before the raucous Irish Pub Rock of ‘The Hand of John L. Sullivan’ and the equally fire-fuelled but more danceable ‘Welcome to Adamstown’ which sees King tackle the rather ‘done’ theme of a town on the decline and inject a big beat.
If ‘Life is Good’ has a page in Flogging Molly’s legacy it just might be seen as the album where it all came together – its an album that balances the bands strengths well rather than overwhelming you with them. Best here might just be the banjo-powered lead single ‘Reptiles (We Woke Up)’ where King muses rather than shouts his opinions. But there is plenty of competition: the bitter politically-infused pill of ‘Crushed (Hostile Nations)’ and its marching beat has plenty of power, and on the other side of the ledger the rather optimistic and lyrical ‘Hope’ offers that other possibility. The upbeat title track dedicated to King’s deceased mother though might just be the coalescence of all the brightest moments in Flogging Molly’s canon. It’s a great, loving, happy song tinged with reverence and memory.
Overall ‘Life Is Good’ is wonderfully balanced with more light and shade certainly than was evident on its emotional, angry and charged predecessor. You’ll love tracks like the sing-along that is ‘The Last Serenade (Sailors and Fisherman)’ and the thickly accented ‘The Guns of Jericho’ which slips from smouldering folk to a danceable pub ditty. The album ends in fine style too with the bluegrass ‘The Bride Wore Black’ and the wistful ‘Until we Meet Again’.
Flogging Molly has always done things their own way, and they kept us waiting for this one. It’s worth it though and you feel that from the first note to the last.