The Real McKenzies – Beer and Loathing

  • Cole Faulkner posted
  • Reviews

The Real McKenzies

Beer and Loathing - Fat Wreck Chords (World)/Stomp Records (Canada)

Fast approaching thirty years in the business, Vancouver celtic-punk act The Real McKenzies needs no introduction.  So much so that the press release announcing the band’s eleventh full length was simple and brief, concisely proclaiming the band’s return in a few sentences across a couple of short paragraphs.  While it seemed short compared to some more recent anthology-like bios of bands with upcoming albums, it was entirely appropriate.  The band has amassed a loyal global following to the point that a simple album announcement is enough to perk ears and trigger anticipation.  And sure enough, after a single spin of their latest, Beer and Loathing, it is abundantly clear why the label(s) would have such confidence.

With Beer and Loathing, The Real McKenzies once again dive head first into the waters of Scottish-Canadian history and lore.  Opening with the purely instrumental call of the bagpipe driven marching song “A Widow’s Watch,” the track succinctly captures the unfaltering essence of The Real McKenzies’ celtic roots.  After the first track runs its minute long opening, the band pivots towards the slow burner, “Overtoun Bridge.”  The song’s plodding tempo and sorrowful demeanour aligns with the Scottish heritage site from which the song takes its name.  Front man Paul McKenzie laments the bridge’s reported supernatural history of luring dogs to plummet to their death, once again reinforcing McKenzie’s reputation as a story teller.  

From here the band returns to an energizing beat and the Canadian wilderness in the song “Big Foot Steps.” McKenzie describes an untamed northern landscape in which he proclaims “this mountain is my castle,” proceeding to describe a territory complete with cougars, rivers, and pristine natural wonders.  At about the mid-song mark it becomes clear that the chorus, “don’t follow in my footsteps, don’t follow in my big foot steps,” is a call to the natural preservation of British Columbia’s wildlife.  It’s a plea aimed at those who would run pipelines through a “paradise under the stars,” threatening resistance from rural Bella Coola to the Vancouver metropolis surrounding the Georgia Straight, and raising protest signs in defiance on the Lion’s Gate Bridge.  Like many of Paul McKenzie’s songs, it’s a geographically specific experience, and one that quietly sneaks in a political message meant for those familiar with the region.  As a rule, if you’re not sure about what a Real McKenzies’ song is about, it’s well worth your time to run a quick search and learn something historical in the process (hint: start your book learn’ with “Cock Up Your Beaver” and “36 Barrels”).

Instrumentally, the album runs the full gamut, successfully offering a breadth of sounds within a traditionally narrow genre.  For a band that has gone through various past phases, Beer and Loathing incorporates something from each past milestone.  There’s the title track and “Nary a Do Gooder’s” speedy, punked-up pub-inspired rhythm; the more serious intonations and aggressive guitar of “Death of the Winnipeg Scene” and “36 Barrels;” the resilient but anguished march for justice in “Whose Child Is This;” and the happy-go-lucky bop of the tale of an arctic expedition gone wrong (“The Cremation of Sam McGee”).  Traditional elements like the bagpipes ebb and flow through these songs naturally, demonstrating that after all these years the band’s musicianship is defined by their vision and the willingness to break from many of the cliches and traditions of celtic music.

The Real Mckenzies may have never quite topped the charts like some of their peers (The Dropkick Murphys seemingly lucked out on a movie soundtrack), but they’ve never let that bring them down.  Featuring twelve memorable tracks spanning topics of lands far and near and times past and present, the band adds another noteworthy chapter in the book of celtic-punk.  Few celtic-punk bands can claim a career as robust as The Real McKenzies, and Beer and Loathing only further strengthens this legacy.