Updated: Jul 27
The air thick with imaginary salt from an icy cold sea hung densely over the imagery of an eerily beautiful prison; it made for a faultless setting to host Fontaines D.C.’s online gig at Kilmainham Gaol on July 14th. The neat ten-song package was timed to perfection: just before the release of sophomore LP A Hero’s Death. Thinking back, ever since the title track was dropped, an intense belief grew that not only would we hear another side to Dublin’s cherished poets, but we would graciously receive the best of their past. This combination would give us another extraordinary experience, and a full listen to their second LP only adds to the gravity of their cultural stance.
More than most groups, D.C. appears to feed on each other's souls and have an equal role to play in their overall output, possessing an aura of wisdom, which places them older than their young years. After the almighty explosion of attention from Dogrel, the band needed air to breathe and space to grow. They took the risk of cancelling shows, heading back home to Dublin to focus on writing and grasping that essential feeling again, the one that made them want to be a band in the first place. This comes across in opening track I Don’t Belong, and its repetition of the phrase I don’t belong to anyone.
My heritage comes from an upbringing in a small industrial town outside of Newcastle upon Tyne. On first hearing of the Irish punks, I was whisked back to a social club environment of patterned, worn carpets, oversized spirit bottles adorning the walls, and the days where smoke billowed and collected in murky grey clouds. It would be like a once in a lifetime discovery that this band would be playing, and the song would be I Don’t Belong; thanks, in part, to the echoing effects and pitch bend.
As a whole, the piece of art has increased texture, tones, and shade then it’s predecessor. Don’t get me wrong, there are still chunks that have that youthful, original sound with appreciated distortion in A Ludic Dream, I Was Not Born, and Living In America: this tune could almost be a complementing sequel to Hurricane Laughter, with Grian’s voice range accepting the challenge of reaching its lowest point. An unusual few minutes arise in Love Is the Main thing. The drums and bass are so quick that you could be in the Hacienda, but suddenly they are topped with a contrasting snail’s pace guitar.
A particular favorite song of mine is Televised Mind: J’adore. Not only does it hold supernatural musical tones and structure, but it is also where the vivid lyrical poetry is given life by its rhythm: “They're all gulls in the sky, They all mimic love's cry, And I wish I could die, Me or them.” It was written before Dogrel, where this is also the case for A Hero’s death. The writing contains many motivational sayings that can sometimes mask the real issue never getting addressed properly: “Sit beneath a light that suits ya, And look forward to a brighter future.”
In many tracks, there is a softer side you may not be expecting, when I say softer, softer in a Fontaines' sense. You Said is melodically gorgeous and is an honest outpouring scribbled on a crinkled and worn note, and Oh Such A Spring is a romantic tale painted vividly, again holding that swaying in the pub quality. It could have been written one hundred years ago. Noted as an influence for the lads is The Beach Boys; this especially comes into play for the California coast sense of Sunny found in the whole vocal arrangement and layers of merry backing; the strings even deliver an inkling of Burt Bacharach. The drumless piece No brings us to a close, and there’s not much description needed about this charm.
With no other way to be than authentic and true to themselves, Fontaines D.C. knew that this release might not please or thrill some of their original followers; it's not banging or ferocious, it’s different. They have managed the crafty feat of retaining their essence but cantering off into the horizon. It has paid off, and there is no doubt that Dogrel fans and A Hero’s Death fans will find common ground. Or, if like me, will appreciate the magnificence of Dogrel, but love A Hero’s Death more. I have said before that this band is special. Not many can hypnotise the imagination like them. I try now as I might to choose another fitting word. Maybe I could consult my thesaurus or even think harder. But no, special it is.
Article by Beverley Knight