On Dropkick Murphys' ninth full-length, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, the Boston staples smooth their edges with some restraint, delivering triumphant anthems and some surprisingly heartfelt expressions. At this point in their careers, the boys are experts at what they do: Pogues-meets-Rancid singalongs for working-class Southie rabble to soundtrack evenings of booze-soaked revelry and camaraderie. They do not disappoint on 11 Short Stories. In fact, this release ends up being the most stylistically varied -- as far as Dropkick goes -- of their catalog. It is less rollicking and ferocious than prior albums -- the hilarious barroom-brawl tune "I Had a Hat" is the closest they come to old-school off-the-wall nostalgia -- a tone shift that is understandable considering their collective ages and elder status as Boston's favorite house band. Classic rock nods provide comforting familiarity -- a "We Will Rock You" Queen-stomp buffers "Paying My Way," while the proletarian spirit of Springsteen drifts through the entire set -- plugging Dropkick into an adjacent genre that might hint at the future trajectory for the band. Their Celtic roots still dig deep and provide the most emotional depth on the LP. Opener "The Lonesome Boatman" is a powerfully rousing start, a muscular reimagining of the Fureys' haunting 1969 tin whistle lament. A bagpipe-infused cover of the Carousel tune "You'll Never Walk Alone" is one of a handful of moments dedicated to victims of the opioid crisis and the band's addiction recovery efforts via their Claddagh Fund organization. However, it's the Boston Marathon bombing ode, "4-15-13," that packs the biggest wallop. Whether intentional or not, the song begins with a bittersweet melody that recalls the Titanic theme, tugging the heartstrings before Al Barr even starts singing. Not only a memorial to the late Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, and Sean Collier -- as well as the hundreds maimed and injured that day -- "4-15-13" is a cathartic, healing gift to the entire city of Boston. On the 11th and final "story," "Until the Next Time," the band bid listeners a touching goodbye and goodnight with a perfectly crafted theme song for every last call (or concert encore) in Boston from now until the end of time. These 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory are deliberate in their intent -- uplifting numbers for swaying shoulder-to-shoulder with friends before emptying out of the bars onto the dark concrete of Lansdowne on a Friday (or Wednesday) night.
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AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung