The term “Irish punk” sprung up in the late ‘90s around the time Flogging Molly jumped into the spotlight and in the waning days of ska-punk. A new hyphen was needed for those into punk aggression and hybrid genres.
I’ve always had a soft spot for violins, mandolins and other instrumentation common in the style. While time and more and more bands under the umbrella have turned it into something of a cartoon, there’s a time and place for it. Plus, the originators of the style almost always do it best.
But enough with the genre talk. The Tossers are one of the early adopters of the style and they’ve had subtle growth and changes over their history without changing their sound drastically. One of the striking things about new material, such as 2017’s Smash the Windows is that it’s tempered, more soothing and classically focused instead of forcing that punk aggression of the early days. Sure, the record is named Smash the Windows but it’s more about enjoying a relaxing pint with friends than it’s about rioting in the streets. Without getting scientific, the album is probably over 50 percent traditional or instrumental with the more up-tempo moments selectively placed within.
While the title track is certainly a punk-ish number, complete with a call and response of “Smash the windows/ Smash them up!” that would make The Hulk proud, it’s also adorned with complementary get-down violin from new member Emily Ruth Constantinou.
The songs that truly stand out balance tradition with more contemporary and rock-fused structures, such as “Mairi’s Wedding,” which starts out by its pub melody and simple backing instrumentation that builds in energy to a bass drum that mimics a room full of stomping feet and clapping hands. The tempo rises and the sing-along grows, picking up energy as each instrument gets a turn at the lead, including a healthy dose of tin whistle. “Lots of Drops of Whiskey” is another one that takes a traditional sound and embellishes without simply speeding it up. Instead, the song slowly builds with mandolin and violin into an instrumental track that’s simultaneously traditional and rock ‘n’ roll.
There are plenty of slower Poguish moments (minus the slurred vocals), and for whatever reason they even cover “Danny Boy” but the songs that stand out are the more original tunes that utilize tradition while building with an Americanized and slightly punked up take, even with a bit of snarl at times.
The general theme of the album is the American Irish experience and it wouldn’t be a Tossers album without at least one Chicago track (“The Town Where I Was Born”), which leads to the main complaint about Smash the Windows: while the band has grown and developed their artistry, the subject matter and sound hasn’t changed much with time. If you already own one or two of their records, the new material doesn’t give much variation from their back catalog. Smash the Windows is a fine album of Irish inspired tuneage, but unless you’re a super fan, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.
7.0 / 10
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