Review || The Real McKenzies - "Beer & Loathing"

If you know me, you know that I'm very eclectic of the folk sound I enjoy -whether it be punk, metal, acoustic, you name it. My relationship with The Real McKenzies has been on a on-and-off basis for years, checking out the releases but not really following the band's whereabouts in between. I am quite familiar with the Canadians' work and the announcement of their 10th full length album, titled "Beer & Loathing", dropping on July 3rd via Fat Wreck, gave me a glimpse of hope in the mess that 2020 is.

If I'm being honest, their previous album never fully grew on me and I was anxiously waiting for their show in my hometown a couple of years back, which would be the perfect chance for me to see first hand how the new material translated live. Unfortunately, that show was eventually cancelled so fast forward to the first single off the new record. My hopes were once again high.

Consisting of 12 tracks, "Beer & Loathing" flows very nicely and I quite enjoy how the constant change in the tempos of the songs establishes diverse tunes. There's songs I can easily picture at a show (insert heavy sigh) getting fans drunkenly dancing, like the fully energetic "Death Of The Winnipeg Scene" and "36 Barrels", there are trademark folk moments, such  as "Big Foot Steps" and "The Ballad Of Cpl. Hornburg" and there are calmer moments like "Overtoun Bridge" and "Cock Up Your Beaver", the musical adaptation of Robert Burn's 1792 poem. All the songs sport different traits; balance however is not always kept.

That being said, I feel there's a noticeable contrast in the musical patterns, although I'm not sure if that was intentional. The first half of the album rolls at a slower speed and in a way feels somewhat like an introduction, a build up to the "noise" that we meet from the seventh song onwards. Sure, bagpipes and memorable, catchy riffs are present for the most part but the songs lack the anthem-potential and the spark that are later on explored in greater detail. I am aware the band underwent heavy internal challenges/changes so I understand how certain parts may not stick perfectly together and how the outcome was not as integral as one would have expected. I don't however feel that it's rushed in any way, but rather missing the confidence that long-term chemistry can provide to a group.

Finally, I would like to address the lyrics. In general, the genre(s) of folk music create false assumptions regarding the themes that inspire the artists and for this album in particular, the title can be misleading. Our imaginary hero may dance, drink and share adventures with his friends, but in the midst of this all there is also a harsh reality slap. I was astonished to read the lyrics to "Whose Child Is This", a blunt and very painful criticism on systemic racism which is closer to our homes, and imperialism on a larger scale. I firmly believe that in the tumultuous times we live in, it's important for artists to use their platforms and call out the shady idea(l)s that the states propagate and engage people against injustice, especially when they challenge social constructs. For this fact, "Beer & Loathing" gained even more respect. 

Overall, this album obviously took guts to make. Paul McKenzie made a bold choice to not give up on his band when essentially everyone else did and, in many ways, the risk paid off. He wrote a new chapter from scratch in the band's history and this should be taken into consideration when you listen to this album. I believe that in the future, should touring resume, the rough edges that I pointed out will be softened, as a stable line-up bonds and band members become comfortable. Until then, sit back, grab a beer and enjoy this album.

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