With their debut record, Gangs of New Holland, Sydney’s The Rumjacks have made a powerfully raucous arrival to the world of celtic-punk and rockabilly; genre’s that demands just that.
When it comes to thematic authenticity, there are few bands that do it better than the Rumjacks. Dabbling almost exclusively in the drunken Irish escapade, Gangs of New Holland is filled with songs of bleeding knuckles, whiskeyed livers and snatched women, all with fiddles, crunched guitars and shouted vocals its guide. Sure, they’re five blokes from Sydney writing Irish shanties, but track down a photo of this band and tell me you don’t believe every fucking word they say…then know that they don’t leave Sydney much cos one of them needs to meet his parole appointments…then grow the balls to question their authenticity.
Gangs of New Holland is everything you want celtic-punk to be. It’s relentlessly loud; the discord of the tin whistle painting melody behind a wall of punk fury. Thematically, The Rumjacks rarely stray from tales of the homeland, only distorting their themes to contextualize the exaggerated Irishman’s plight to their Sydney home. The shores of Canada Bay and the streets of Surry Hills are name checked before their most embittered and representative lyrical achievement in An Irish Pub Song. Pissing on the Australian concept of the Irish bar (“the Guiness pie, that cabbage crap, the ideal wannabe Paddy trap”) the Rumjacks plant themselves against the pub owners, running the line “we’ll raise the price of beer a dollar, we’ll make ‘em wear a bloody shirt and collar, we’ll fly a bloody tri-colour and call it an Irish pub” against “I swear upon the holy book, the only craic you’ll get is a slap in the ear.” It’s here where the Rumjacks are at their best, releasing the pent tension of martyrdom through spat vocals and distorted guitars. Most tracks follow a familiar soft-loud formula; a fiddle and a ballad overtaken by guitar fuzz, pounded bass and angst, but it’s not entirely predictable. The couple of true ballads in The Terrible Sea and McAlpines Fusilers are artfully placed amongst all the rage, while the near reggae rhythms of Roll Away Alone is probably one of the album’s most accessible, playing out almost as The Rumjack’s crack at Men At Work’s Down Under.
Gangs of New Holland was never going to be a piece of art, but it is a cracker of an album. It’s repressed and relentless, the sounds of Irish folk crashing against punk’s hallmarks for an album of undisputed energy. Yes, wherever it doesn’t sound like The Pogues, it sounds like Flogging Molly, but don’t let that distract you from what this album has to offer; 40 minutes of kick arse expat release.
Gangs of New Holland by The Rumjacks is out now on Laughing Outlaw Records.