Unless they suddenly turn rap or something jarringly divergent like that, Street Dogs will always be compared to fellow Boston boys Dropkick Murphys. Both bands epitomize the same Southie tough-guy aesthetic, both proudly espouse the proletariat ethos and both express it through chanting anthems cut from the same fists-and-pints street punk cloth. Top dog Mike McColgan himself fronted an early version of the Murphys, though his Street Dogs have always existed in their considerable shadow for good reason. While respectable in message and intent, they’ve simply never been able to match the Murphys’ swagger and melodic power.
State of Grace, however, is a confident step toward cutting that lead, especially since the Murphys have been on cruise control since their 2003 magnum opus, Blackout. This collection of hard-nosed rockers has more muscle than previous work, but the real breakthrough is the improved sense of song. Throughout their career, the Street Dogs’ crusade to capture a triumphant sound has yielded mixed results. Here, they hit that chest-filling note with more precision and consistency than ever. The songs communicate the nobility and strength of their working-class values in more realized and convincing ways.
“Mean Fist” is a brawny pit-stormer. The top-down soar of “The General’s Boombox,” a eulogy to Joe Strummer, is a sterling example of the band’s growing tunefulness. The pinnacle, however, is “Kevin J. O’Toole,” a pitch-perfect ode to McColgan’s late uncle.
The Street Dogs are traditionalists, and this album is far from a total overhaul. But the melodic calibration is key enough to make State of Grace their finest hour. It’s evidence that they’re ready for a more prominent spot on the block.