A handful of records on multiple labels, a World Series game, a Jimmy Kimmel appearance, a solo record...not bad for a band of Southside Chicagoans I first heard opening for Citizen Fish in 2000. With Agony, The Tossers second release on Victory Records, they continue to steadily grow in popularity and release almost an album per year.
Often overlooked by bigger selling contemporaries such as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, The Tossers keep plugging away at their niche - traditional Irish folk, sped up and enlivened with a rebellious punk spirit. If a comparison must be made, think Flogging Molly with a heavier use of mandolin and the very unique, dusty voice of Tony Duggins.
Agony follows the structure of previous releases with very few surprises. There is a variance of up-tempo rebellion songs, a few ballads, a couple traditional and instrumental songs, a sing-a-long drinking song, and a lot of political posturing. If you've heard their other records, you've in essence heard this one.
Their previous releases, Purgatory and In the Valley of Death, were oversaturated with slower songs that, however good they may be, seriously detracted from the albums as a whole. The fast/slow/instrumental/slow/fast mix works well for the first half of Agony, but as it gets ballad-heavy towards the end, it begins to drag and blur into sameness. Clunkers "Claddagh" and "Movin' On" kill the festive mood established by songs like "Did it All for You" and "Romany." Instead of the toe-tapping, tin whistle approach, The Tossers mostly lament on the dreary parts of life. Duggins' voice is especially inescapable during the ballads and your appreciation of its properties will define your ability to stomach the band. It's very divisive, although I feel the not-quite-raspy monotone serves the everyman/working class feel of the band well and his solemn, slow delivery in the ballads perfectly fits with the lyrical content. However, the prevalence of so many slower songs really accentuates the monotony and, after a couple of ballads, you'll be ready for something else.
As a fan of the band's discography, the clearest improvement they've made is lyric-wise, where the political messages have become more refined and less preachy. While they still utilize the direct approach ("Political Scum"), songs like "Not Forgotten" show a more mature approach. And, while "Not Alone" is far from a favorite track, who doesn't relate with lines like, "This is the sign of a life of out of control adults / I sometimes drink to oblivion in spite of what I know / I sometimes create chaos anywhere I go"?
The difficulty in rating this release is that it's all over the place. The upbeat songs are great for a group outing to the pub, but the ballads will send you into a rainy alleyway with a bottle of whiskey. And there's just a little too much rain on Agony.
6.5 / 10
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