It’s fitting that the Pogues performed in Chicago the same day Agony, the new album by the Tossers, an Irish punk band, was released. The Pogues’ shadow looms over every band that attempts Celtic rock—the Tossers, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys have all struggled to be labeled anything but novelty knockoffs.
Since Celtic rock is so steeped in traditional music, the best Celtic rock bands experiment with new, unique ways of expressing a relatively ancient style. The Tossers have had their share of success over the past decade, most notably through Purgatory (2003), which made them probably the only band to ever be labeled Celtic post-punk. Agony, however, is one of their most perfunctory albums to date. The experimentation in their music has been replaced by convoluted, childish lyrics about depression, failed relationships, and politics. Musically, the album sounds like the work of a band that has run out of ideas.
Part of the problem is that the lyrics involve terms out of place with traditional music. Neurotransmitters, rugged individualism, and Red Bull may be terms we all understand, but do we really want to think of them while hearing whistles, mandolins, and banjos? It doesn’t help that lead singer T. Duggins’s painfully uninspired vocals conflict with the serious subjects of his lyrics.
The main problem is that the Tossers can’t really pull off a somber song. The sparse instrumentation and snail-paced tempo of tracks such as “Claddagh” and “Not Alone” leave the tracks without much to catch the ear. That puts most of the pressure on Duggins, who simply cannot carry a song like Shane MacGowan could for the Pogues.
The album’s only redemption is that the Tossers can still write a drinking song with the best of them. “Never Enough” and “Pub and Culture,” along with the slightly-more-sober “Where Ya Been Johnny?” show that with drummer Bones quarterbacking the band through strong choruses and energetic performances, the Tossers are at their best when they are most irreverent. It’s just too bad that these songs are virtually identical in structure.
On the track “Movin’ On,” Duggins sings “Saying goodbye for now/ ’cause I need to move/ ’cause the rest of the world moves on.” The Tossers are playing a tired act that the rest of the world gave up on years ago, and it might do them some good to follow their own message.