Warped Tour Vancouver 1998: NOFX takes the stage for a headlining set before blasting into a tune from one of their many iconic ‘90s albums. Fat Mike declares that he has just witnessed one of the greatest bands he’s ever seen — the Real McKenzies. The Real McKenzies were already an institution in Vancouver at this point, so the crowd’s uproarious reaction to Fat Mike’s proclamation was no surprise, nor was it surprising when the McKenzies released an album on Fat Wreck Chords’ subsidiary Honest Dons, a couple years later.
Fast-forward to 2015: the McKenzies have released their seventh studio album, Rats in the Burlap with Fat Wreck Chords (released on Stomp! in Canada). This is their eleventh release in total since the Scottish influenced punk band’s inception in 1992, four years before the formation of a certain Irish influenced Boston band the McKenzies are so often compared to.
As usual the album has a number of more Celtic influenced songs, like the vigorous bagpipe laden opener “Wha Saw the 42nd,” the spirited “Lilacs in the Alleyway” and the bouncing “You Wanna Know What.”
The McKenzies have never been hesitant to keep the punk in Celtic punk. This is most evident in full out rockers like “Who’d a Thought,” and pop punk tracks like “Catch Me.” All the songs on Rats in the Burlap showcase the band’s solid musicianship and their ability to include traditional celtic instruments — particularly bagpipes — throughout the album without sounding kitchy.
The McKenzies’ notorious sense of humour is also present, particularly on “Bootsy the Haggis-Eating Cat”— which apparently is a true story. The reeling “Spinning Wheels” is an ode to the McKenzies’ epic tours and notoriously fun performances — shows where you might be treated to a ‘friendly’ onstage punch up, or be called out by vocalist Paul McKenzie for standing around in the crowd: “You in the back, uncross your fuckin’ arms and dance!”
It’s nice to see that 23 years in, these Celtic punk pioneers are still hammering out genre defining albums. Rats in the Burlap is another fist full of rousing good times that the Real McKenzies have become legendary for. They show no signs of slowing down as Paul McKenzie sings in “Spinning Wheels:” “We’ve been here before / We play here again / To raise up a glass with all our friends.”