Street Dogs, Fading American Dream
With a heavy-duty Boston punk pedigree (singer Mike McColgan used to front the Dropkick Murphys before quitting to be a firefighter, while drummer Joe Sirois used to be in the Mighty Mighty Bosstones), tough-looking guys in black t-shirts, and a name like “Street Dogs,” it shouldn’t really be too surprising that Fading American Dream is a hard-edged, fiery blast of Dorchester-bred streetpunk. On tracks like “Common People,” “Sell Your Lies,” or “Tobe’s Got a Drinking Problem” (which is a friendly-but-firm warning to guitarist Tobe Bean that he’s headed for trouble with the bottle), the Street Dogs blaze away like they’re channeling Sham 69 and Stiff Little Fingers, with a bracing shot of Southie pride and fury added to the mix. Good stuff, yes, but again, it’s not hard to figure out how they got there.
The real surprise, then, is that Fading American Dream also happens to be a smart, heartfelt ode to the death of the middle class. A lot of the tracks, particularly “Common People” and the two pro-union songs, a reverent cover of “There is Power in a Union” (which sticks remarkably close to Billy Bragg’s classic version) and defiant closer “Katie Bar The Door,” show a seriously populist streak. The band may be blue-collar to the bone, but its members are fiercely political.
It’s a little odd, by the way, to hear a bunch of blue-collar South Boston Irish punks bemoaning the death of the middle class. Not that I disagree with the sentiment, mind you, but that what once was the music of the disenfranchised underclass has essentially transformed into the music of the bourgeoisie. Now that I think about it, though, does that shift mean that the music’s moved upward, or that the middle class has become the disenfranchised underclass? I’ll leave that one for the pundits to hash out.
At any rate, beyond the politics Dream is also nicely intelligent and lyrical in the vein of the Pogues or Tom Waits (or the Dropkick Murphys, for that matter) — despite the streetpunk bent, this isn’t music for meatheads who can only remember a few words of each song. The speeding, urgent “Not Without A Purpose” harnesses some of The Clash’s spirit for a vibrant rallying cry to all punks everywhere, while “Shards Of Life” is rollicking Celtic folk-punk with its heart tattooed on its sleeve. A few of the tracks are reminiscent of more recent punk icons Rancid (the catchy “Rights To Your Soul”; nice sing-along chorus, there) and Social Distortion (the furious, impassioned title track), and “Fatty” and “Hardluck Kid” remind me of Texan pop-punks Dynamite Boy.
The real “experiment” of the bunch, though, is “Final Transmission,” a countryish, almost Johnny Cash-like tune sung partly from the point of view of a young G.I. killed by an IED while on patrol in Iraq. Which is weird, because politico-punks Anti-Flag attempt nearly the same conceit on their latest album, and it didn’t fly, at least not for me — it felt somewhat ham-handed and ridiculous.
Here, however, it works; maybe it’s the utter sincerity with which the band tackles the song, the gentle country lilt to it, or the fact that Mike McColgan himself is a vet of the first Iraq war and knows what the hell he’s singing about, but whatever it is, it’s actually pretty touching. Congratulations to McColgan and company for making me view Boston punk in a whole new light.