When it comes to Celtic-infused rock ’n’ roll in America today, fans predominantly fall into two camps. Those who prefer their fiddles and bagpipes accompanying a harder-edged, punk-flavored sound gravitate toward Dropkick Murphys. Those who, instead, seek the sounds of Scotland and the Emerald Isle blended with more “mature,” less aggressive arrangements usually dial up Flogging Molly.
After debuting in 1997 with the live album, Alive Behind the Green Door and following it up in 2000 with their first studio album, Swagger, Flogging Molly quickly established itself as a brilliant alternative to tepid radio rock. The band’s dedication to its fans — illustrated first and foremost by its nearly constant tour schedule — combined with its genuinely unique and spirited sound led to significant success. Four more studio albums and two additional live ones later, Flogging Molly is back with Speed of Darkness.
Speed of Darkness finds Ireland’s own Dave King, his lovely wife Bridget Regan and the rest of the boys from Los Angeles (or in some cases, Boulder) — Denis Casey, George Schwindt, Matt Hensley, Robert Schmidt and Nathen Maxwell — covering familiar ground in decidedly new ways. As with earlier Flogging Molly fare, the songs on Speed of Darkness tend toward either the overtly political or painfully personal. What sets Speed of Darkness apart from even its most recent predecessor, Float, is its moderated tonality and quasi-pop feel.
Pop. Wow. As a Flogging Molly-head since ’02 or so, that is one characterization I never thought I’d apply to this band. In fairness, I did go with “quasi-pop,” because as much of a departure as Speed of Darkness is from Swagger or Drunken Lullabies it retains enough rugged independence and countercultural élan to easily avoid the company of the Biebers and Gagas of the world. That said, the catchy choruses and polished hooks of songs like “Don’t Shut ’Em Down” and “Saints and Sinners” show that Flogging Molly has embraced its sonic evolution and is unafraid to distance itself from earlier, rawer offerings like “The Likes of You Again” and “Rebels of the Sacred Heart.”
Surely, the tin whistles, mandolins and grinding guitars remain present, as does the focus on the downtrodden, both present and past. More than one laborer’s lament appears on Speed of Darkness, and given the deplorable state of the U.S. and world economies, these tracks are some of the most hard-hitting. Still, given how far Flogging Molly’s sound has traveled from its roots, it will be interesting to see how many longtime fans drop off the bandwagon, so to speak. Those who do will quickly be replaced by new fans who will cite Speed of Darkness as the first Flogging Molly album truly for them.