Frontman Grian Chatten comes of age in mesmerising post-punk offering
HYPE can do terrible things to young bands. Even before they released their debut album, Dogrel, last year, one might have worried that Fontaines DC would drown under the waves of expectation. And then the album emerged and it hoovered up the sort of critical plaudits that any band might dream of, let alone an Irish group who had only been together a couple of years. Their frenetic shows demonstrated that they were just as compelling outside the studio.
They’ve wasted little time in following it up, but it hasn’t been plain sailing. Last October, the quintet decamped to Los Angeles for a month to make an album. Frontman Grian Chatten talked up his love of The Beach Boys. But they were unhappy with what emerged. It didn’t, they later claimed, capture the seedy underbelly of what they were looking for.
Before Christmas, they took the difficult step of scrapping the whole thing and in January they went to London to record with Dan Carey, who produced Dogrel. The result is hugely compelling — an album that will appeal to both those who obsessed over their debut and anyone new to the band.
Simply put, it’s a post-punk album centred on rock’s holy trinity: guitars, drums, bass. And, in Chatten, they have a remarkable vocalist. His Dublin accent is loud and proud — the polar opposite to other groups, like the Script, whose frontman flavours a mid-Atlantic twang. He’s quite a lyricist too: idiomatic Irishman adding colour to his keen observations. On ‘Oh Such A Spring’ he channels the spirit of Luke Kelly as he sings about time’s inexorable march.
The arresting title track reads like the sort of advice a parent might give a child. “Don’t get stuck in the past/ Say your favourite things at mass/ Tell your mother that you love her/ And go out of your way for others.” Like many of the band’s songs, both here and on their debut, the message is hopeful: life is good, don’t settle, the grass really can be greener.
It’s as though Fontaines DC themselves live by such rules. There’s a restlessness in their music that hints at a band straining at the bit. Not for them a contentment with local acclaim — they want their music to reach a wide audience. And, when they’re at the peak of their powers, their songs surely will travel far and wide.
‘Televised Mind’ is one of their strongest to date. It’s a thrilling, pulse-quickening number built around urgent guitars and will remind some of the Fall at their uncompromising best. It is the sort of tune that would sound incendiary in a live setting and it is to producer Carey’s credit that, as a recording, is boasts such adrenaline.
And credit, too, to the band’s twin guitarists, Conor Curley and Carlos O’Connell, whose playing adds spice, especially on the troubled ‘You Said’, a song in which Chatten’s vocals take a tender turn. The rhythm second of Conor Deegan and Tom Coll enhance the band’s muscularity, without showboating.
All four hail from outside Dublin — and they met Skerries native Chatten at the BIMM ‘rock school’ — and yet Fontaines DC have come to be seen as something of a quintessential Dublin band. In its glowing review of this album, American online taste-maker Pitchfork suggest the five are from the “working-class neighbourhood, the Liberties” even though Deegan and Coll are from Mayo, Curley is from Monaghan and O’Connell was born in Madrid.
The capital may not be as pronounced a character on this album as it was on their debut, but there are subtle hints of its influence. The album title is taken from a line in the Brendan Behan play, The Hostage, and the cover artwork features Oliver Shepherd’s celebrated stature of Cu Cuchlainn in the GPO.
There are occasional moments that drag on the album’s 47-minute run time — Carey could have cracked the whip a little more — but, for the most part, this is an album that confirms that Fontaines DC are the real deal. What a pity they can’t perform these songs in front of packed crowds this summer.
On the day that Fontaines DC chat to Review - via Zoom - it is four-odd months since live concerts were rendered null and void. Mid-March feels like a long time ago for anyone who makes gig-going an essential part of their lives, and it has felt an eternity for a young Irish band already celebrated for their incendiary on-stage performances.