Over the past few years, I’ve come to love Irish punk music. One of the most incredible concert experiences I’ve ever had was at Flogging Molly’s Austin City Limits ’09 set, when it rained and we danced anyway. There’s more to the tale (there always is!), but you’ll have to track me down in person to hear it. It’s too good to pass up telling live.
The Righs are an Irish punk band and (full disclosure) my friends, as lead singer/acoustic guitarist Nate Williams was a long-time writer for Independent Clauses. Nate handed me this album and asked me what I thought. I told him pretty much what I’m writing now. But now you’re free to take all this with a grain of salt.
Back to the Righs’ Irish punk. The band is gleefully raw, having recorded these tunes on Roses purposefully without pristine sound quality. Having seen some of these songs performed live, it was a good move to go a little more raw on the recording; this album sounds a lot closer to what the Righs sound like live than their debut album The Rivers Run Deep does. The drums pound, the vocals run ragged, and the band seems to tilt a little bit toward losing control. It’s a wild and frantic sound most of the time, and it’s an energizing one.
I’m sure that the decision to let the sound be less-than-perfect will drive some away. But if that’s what sends them packing, they weren’t really listening to the songs anyway. This album is over an hour long, and the band uses almost every minute of it to say something. They charge through punk songs, drinking songs, anthems, folk tunes, sea shanties and more. The lyrics run the gamut too: from the call-to-arms of opener “Double Edged Sword” to the depressing storytelling of “Mother Knows Best” to the protest anthem “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” back to philosophical musings on closer “What Good is Death?”, The Righs devote time to tons of topics.
Because this album is long, varied musically, varied lyrically, and in a style that often gets pegged as a gimmick, it would be easy to think that this would get tiring. It doesn’t, because the album can be neatly broken into two parts: the ragged, wild beginning half, and the more subdued second half. There are still punk tunes in the back half, but “And So It Goes” is a much more orderly song than the “fire that’s on fire” urgency of early standout “The Man With Nickel Plating Makes All the Rules.” It doesn’t mean it’s less enjoyable; it means it’s different. And the Righs use that difference in songwriting and recording style to keep their long album interesting. There are some tunes that lag, but you can skip ’em. With so many songs to choose from here, missing one isn’t a huge loss (especially when the album is not composed with a particular theme, story, or central element).
The Righs’ Roses is an entertaining Irish punk album that draws in a variety of songwriting and lyrical influences from outside the Celtic tradition. While still retaining their core sound, the band pushes its boundaries outward, mostly resulting in success. The crazy, energetic, great songs are proof.