The Tossers – Purgatory

The Tossers

No matter how many banjoes and tin whistles are crammed into an album, infusing traditional Irish music with speedy punk can no longer be tagged unique, innovative, or otherwise “fresh.” The Pogues started it in the 80s, Dropkick Murphys made it mainstream in the 90s, and a whole slew of others, from The Real McKenzies to Flogging Molly, have been capitalizing on it ever since. The Tossers are just one of the herd.
Snuggling neatly into the small span of years after The Pogues fizzled out and before Dropkick Murphys revived the genre’s popularity, this Chicago seven-piece is more Celtic than it is pop-punk. Slow ballads with picturesque Irish names (“Caoin,” “Memory”) and accent-laden, lilting vocals frequent the 16-track Purgatory; the album slips from maudlin ramblings to merry reels but never strays from a distinctly Irish, beer-induced jubilance. (I should note one exception: the second half of “Chicago,” for reasons known only to The Tossers, suddenly rips into a fiddle-free, guitar-driven, sneery punk-rock song. This is, however, an anomaly.) Even the speedier songs (still quaintly tagged with titles like “Nantucket Girls Song” and “Ballad of the Thoughtful Rover”) play more like Irish jigs than pop-punk with a mandolin. The folksy feel of Purgatory makes The Tossers seem more honest and genuine, more dedicated to the music; I can’t, however, see fans of traditional, gritty rock enduring a song like “Come Dancing” for long.
The album’s weakest point are the vocals. Frequently sounding rushed and slightly off-key, Tony Duggins’ voice doesn’t measure up to the haunting Irish ideal, a fact most painfully obvious on the a capella title track, “Purgatory.” The vocals aren’t so bad as to ruin the album – only a few simple voice lessons or more attentiveness should remedy the problem – but they do leave it sounding unpolished. The lyrics also are also a little clumsy and stereotypical when compared with The Tossers’ poetic predecessors The Pogues, but to its credit, the band makes an honest effort at picking apart politics (“The Squall”) and religion (“Purgatory”).
Ultimately Purgatory fits snugly into its genre. It isn’t a perfect or earth-shakingly original album, but unlike some of the more mainstream Celtic-punk acts, The Tossers exude a comfort with traditional Celtic folk that can only come with years of experience and a genuine love of the music.