Flatfoot 56: Toil
Most people think of Celtic punk as a very cloistered scene. Dropkick Murphys have the market cornered and outlier bands like Flogging Molly are left the scraps. But in 2010, the landscape changed a bit. Flatfoot 56 released their album, Black Thorn. Although it was the group’s fifth album, it was their first to enter the Billboard charts. The album peaked at 160 on the Billboard 200, 17 on the independent albums chart, and 2 on the heatseekers albums chart; an accomplishment that even more established Celtic rock acts like The Tossers had never accomplished. Now, the Chicago band attempts to follow up that success with Toil.
For those not familiar with the Celtic punk tradition, there is more to the genre than integrating bagpipes, banjos, and fiddles into punk music. There is a certain lyrical tradition that most Celtic punk bands follow. Lyrics that incorporate the plight of the working man, poverty, and Irish Catholicism in their fabric. This is where Toil finds its greatest success. While the music of Toil is energetic and catchy, the lyrics are pure working man poetry. The album’s titular song features a chorus of “From the steel workers in Pittsburgh to the trucker and his load/they’re all feeding that old fat cat hoping he’ll explode.” “Winter in Chicago” features the lyrics “it’s alright/its winter in Chicago and I’m stuck on Lakeshore Drive/and there is no work/the frost, it bites/its winter in Chicago and the Hawks are on tonight/and its alright.” These everyman sentiments make the album relatable without being preachy.
Despite being labeled a Christian band, the album feels largely devoid of religious iconography. The only track that feels outwardly religious is the album’s closing track, a rousing cover of the hymn “I’ll Fly Away.” Otherwise the album just walks the tightrope of keeping a Christian attitude while speaking out against social and economic injustice. The result is one of the better political punk records of recent memory. The songs are anthemic and rousing while still being catchy. What more do you want out of your punk albums?