Album Review: The Real McKenzies – Rats In The Burlap

My relationship with the Bagpipes has always been a troublesome one. To put it simply, there’s something about the shrill, jerky nature of the sound I’ve never quite managed to find a place in my heart for. As I board a busy Victoria Line train to the sounds of Rats In The Burlap’s 16-bar bagpipe intro I close my eyes and brace myself for what the next 40 minutes of the new release from The Real McKenzies has to offer.

It’s important to remember that since as early as 1992 The Real McKenzies have been busy earning themselves a sturdy reputation. For the last 23 years they’ve captivated large audiences the world over with their unique brand of Celtic punk rock; a genre they just so happen to have played a considerable role in pioneering. Something tells me they must have been doing something right all these years so I’m doing my best to keep an open mind.

The first point at which this album truly grabbed my attention (around about the Seven Sisters mark) was during its 3rd track ‘Who’d a Thought’. Tucked neatly behind the cover of military folk song ‘Wha Saw the 42nd’, and the rockabilly tinged ‘Up on a Motorbike’, its a welcome reminder that as well as showing competency amongst more traditional styles, The Real McKenzies are still a punk band, and a very capable one at that. Frontman Paul McKenzie’s frantic vocals run rampant on this tune, jolting this album up a gear with its angry, heavily politicised lyrics on the notions of wealth and disparity.

From here on in things only continue to improve. ‘Midnight Train to Moscow’ carries on in a similar vein, while ‘Yes’, a powerful assertion on the subject of Scotland’s independence, stands tall as one of the defining tracks on the record. Heartfelt penultimate track ‘Catch Me’ speaks of past drunken experiences, occasionally hinting at deeper, more poignant themes of camaraderie.

Like many of their albums before, ‘Rats in the Burlap’ boasts an impressive range of musical styles and influences. Well-crafted folk and rock songs explore everything from the joys of touring to the passing of old friends. While it may not have entirely conquered my biases towards the ‘pipes, there is some excellent song writing at play here making this a great listen. ‘Rats in the Burlap’ will no doubt resonate with the band’s long abiding fans, and given the chance will win the hearts of many new ones too.


‘Rats in the Burlap’ by The Real McKenzies is out now on Fat Wreck Chords.

The Real McKenzies links: Website|Facebook|Twitter

Words by Matt Carson


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