“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone…”, goes September 1913, a famous poem by W.B. Yeats. On ‘Dogrel’, Fontaines D.C. examined this statement through the lens of their hometown (and adjusted nomenclature), and its plethora of colourful characters, blurring the lines between ‘pub talk’ and ‘poetry’ to magnificently ramshackle effect.
On sophomore effort, ‘A Hero’s Death’, frontman, Grian Chatten is less scuzzy flâneur, weathered from incessant touring, opting to turn inward as a result. That old trope? Not simply. Fontaines D.C. remain as defiant and singular as ever.
“You won’t catch me sleeping/Cause I was not born/Into this world/To do another man’s bidding”, declares Chatten on I Was Not Born, one of a few songs that could stake a claim to be a cornerstone of the album. Much like the hook on propulsive opener, I Don’t Belong, on deeper inspection, Gratten’s songwriting is multifaceted. Having just turned twenty-five, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was no rest for the wicked.
Elsewhere, on You Said, the group struggle to make light of the transience associated with touring, as well as maintaining their identity. The lyrics, “all bears/Meaning to the freaks, who dare live/Life not as a climbing stair, they’re/Operating faster” come across as claustrophobic and hypnotic as the refrain, ‘operating faster’ which induces a panic not too dissimilar to a nuclear reactor shutting down…
Fontaines D.C. have matured faster than most on their second LP, seemingly determined to not simply churn out the same material. While ‘A Hero’s Death’ (which takes its name from a play by Brendan Behan) matches its predecessor at times in terms of raucousness (Televised Mind, A Lucid Dream), this LP is nowhere near as immediate or clamouring. In fact, it’s much more expansive.
Sunny, encompasses overlapping backing vocals and angelic harmonies reminiscent of dream pop Brummies, Broadcast is an example of the band being more patient in their approach, while album closer, No, finds Chatten forbearing and ruminative. The record’s titular track is undoubtedly the strongest work the band have produced – Chatten’s cadence and the diversity of his pitch is most impressive.
‘A Hero’s Death’ sees the Skerries man harness everyone from Andrew Savage (I Don’t Belong) to Bobbie Gillespie (I Was Not Born) to Ian Brown (You Said) to Liam Gallagher at his softest and most anthemic (No). But this isn’t to say he simply rallies through a who’s who of indie icons. Chatten develops his own arsenal, even dipping into a sort of muffled baritone at one stage on A Lucid Dream.
Chatten builds imagery through simple storytelling and poetic techniques and he teaches us a lot about the travail of realising ourselves through our twenties. This is most notable on I Don’t Belong where he wrestles between individuality and alienation in the form of an ‘embittered barfly’ one verse to “a soldier In the annexe of the earth” the next. Elsewhere he talks about “bear trap loyalty”.
Fontaines D.C. came together over a love of poetry and have even created anthologies together. They have talked about music being a vehicle through which to bring that to the masses and have not counted out releasing more poetry together in the future. Based on their two albums to date, that’s a pretty fine vehicle.
The only weak point on an otherwise impeccable album is Living in America. At nearly five minutes long (the longest on the record), it is a stab in the dark at being moody and high-octane, harking back to their more punk-infused roots. Permeated by oblique references to London and birds it feels like a missed opportunity at a time when America is framed so squarely in the news.
On dockyard ditty, Oh Such A Spring which channels Interpol-style fingerpicking, Chatten laments, “I wish I could go back to spring again”. While you’re there, lads, intercept that pandemic and reclaim for yourselves that 50th anniversary Glasto spot on the Park Stage you so richly deserved!