Speed of Darkness
Bortsal Beat Records
Flogging Molly has been coasting by as this generation’s answer to The Pogues for over a decade now, and they’ve seldom strayed far from their roots. 2008’s Float showcased their remarkably consistency even without any significant creative growth, and their fans guzzled it down like a pint of Guinness on St. Patty’s day.
Flogging Molly could have repeated their past success on any number of connect-the-dot follow ups, but with their true successor, Speed Of Darkness, they seem to have taken such comments of comfort to heart, and have finally given fans their next true evolution. While previous albums traditionally acted as the soundtrack to local pubs crawls, these twelve tracks tackle sobering matters, exposing a band coming to terms with a changing reality. Along those lines, a lot has changed since Float last hit – most notably the global economy limping on life support, and the trickle down effect of a recession to working class Americans. The life of the factory worker has always been sacred ground for the quintet, and as the reality of that life change, those changes are reflected in the tales told.
Not surprisingly, Speed Of Darkness exists in the thick of today’s socially fragmented world. The title track races in with unprecedented urgently, setting the mood for the following scene. While Flogging Molly last looked to the past for inspiration – such as the Irish potato famine of 1845 – the boys now look to the factories of Detroit (referenced by name in “The Power’s Out”) to uncover widespread hardship. Together with a quick tempo, harsh chords, and angered tone, “Speed Of Darkness” borrows from the Dropkick Murphys camp of labour protests and working class revolt. “Revolution” builds an image of a freshly transient labour force. “You worked 27 years in this factory/now the boss man says that you’re not what we need/The penguins in the suits know nothing but greed” opens frontman Dave King. The narrative tale of a “working man without a place to work,” follows a man burring his pride and “cupping his hands” on a street corner. Accompanied by a horn section (inviting an unlikely Less Than Jake reference), and a finale rooted in solidarity-anchored defiance, Flogging Molly offers a glimpse into that inexplicable optimism known as the human condition.
But that’s not to say there isn’t a fair share of sadness along the way. Speed Of Darkness bursts with personal loss, defeat, and decay. While fiddler Bridget Regan doesn’t get as much playtime as on past records, her role remains vital. Stroking carefully at lonely chords, she achieves a sorrowful sense of profound loss. The result shines brightly amidst dark challenges, drawing upon traditional sounds as per the tin whistle heavily “So Sail On,” and the bold yet accepting “The Present State Of Grace.” With such care, Regan refuses letting nary a note come across as anything less than contemplative, thoughtful, and above all real.
In targeting such emotions, the band puts their traditional folk ensemble to good use. Of special note, Matt Hensley’s accordion only twice takes the lead during “State Of Grace” and “The Cradle Of Human Kind.” Employing the massive musical range of free reed aerophone instrument, Hensley methodically presses each note on his squeezebox into an honest statement reflecting how harsh times influence everything and nothing in one’s home life. “I will fight for this right” King sings softly alongside softly stroked piano keys, leading him to the final resolve that “there will always be a dream and a roof above our head.” It’s a humbling and flawed outlook, but at once necessary.
Speed Of Darkness may encroach in the familiar territory of working class pride, but the personal nature of the story distinguishes Flogging Molly against a host of contemporaries (you could never confuse King and his troupe with the Dropkick Murphys, Flatfoot 56, or The Dreadnoughts). Flogging Molly’s story is above all a tale of survival. It’s about waking up to new hardship and finding the strength to love family and friends. Whereas Float might have seemed inconsequential and formulaic, today’s climate empowers Flogging Molly with a pressing reason d’etre. Without question Flogging Molly’s most purposeful and directed work in years.