Review: The Real McKenzies - Two Devils Will Talk

F*** the Real McKenzies!

Not many groups can simultaneously be as kickass and self-deprecating—all while maintaining such a sense of humour that feels lacking in today’s age of far-too-serious punk—as the Real McKenzies.

One of Canada’s most iconic punk bands returns with their next offering to their already impressive catalog. The Real McKenzies kicked off 2017 with the release of Two Devils Will Talk, an album that continues their trend of Atlantic-infused Celtic punk. From the moment the bagpipes start playing, Two Devils works to reaffirms the ongoing legend status of the group.

The record kicks off with a fast-paced vocal chorus from “Due West,” reassuring listeners that they’ll “never die.” The declaration sets the tone for the rest of the album; the McKenzies should not be underestimated. There’s just something about the way that it’s expertly layered on top of hard hitting guitar riffs and unrelenting drums lines, as well as lead singer Paul McKenzie’s Scottish accent, that gives the McKenzies an edge.

The trademark Celtic twinge to their music has always been the magnet that attracted fans. Most of the 14 tracks of the album do feature that sound; but save for a few songs, they do not possess the same heart that appeared on previous records. It might be a departure from their previous winning formula, but you have to acknowledge the courage of the group to change up their sound.

Immaculate storytelling is the one of the many driving forces behind the record, as it has been for the group since their debut in 1995. While “Due West” reassures audiences that they will never die, “Sail Again” offers a little bleaker outlook, declaring “I’ll never sail again” and “Madness fills my head.”

And as he reached, for his whiskey / Unaware it was his last / His head shook / from a faded hourglass.” “The Town” is one of the album's best songs—not only because of the lyrics, from the poet that is Mr. McKenzie, but because of its implications for the group. Few groups manage to plant themselves so firmly into Canadian lore and culture. After 25 years, the McKenzies continue to be one of the most active live bands in the country, with their passion seemingly unfazed by the grind of travel. This feat of consistency is made more impressive when you learn that Paul McKenzie is the only original member of the group still touring.

While this album doesn’t dig any deeper into the sub-genre of Celtic punk—a sub-genre that they did not invent, but one that they have helped grow and popularize—it displays the versatility and talent of the Real McKenzies. Each track radiates an infectious energy; an energy that makes one begin to frantically tap his foot in order to keep up. The album is never boring, but never truly ascends into the same ranks of other McKenzies records. That doesn’t mean that it’s completely devoid of great punk moments though. The two strongest songs, “Due West” and “Sail Again,” can rank among some of the group’s best. It’s impossible to wonder if this album is a sending-off, or simply the springboard to bigger and better things for the next quarter century.