As summer soars, time slows down and the steady stream of interesting releases comes to a standstill. So it’s a good time to write about Fontaines D.C.’s third, an album we left on the shelf for dull moments like these.
Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore this Irish poet-rock band. Their 2019 debut Dogrel, a homage to the Irish working class, is probably the best post-punk album we have heard in a long time.
It only took them a year to release a worthy follow up album. It took us some time to adjust to A Hero’s Death (2020) because of the much more inward perspectives but eventually we have to admit it’s one for the books as well. With Skinty Fia the band steps into the mainstream and that is usually where we jump off the bandwagon. Fontaines D.C. however never renounced their roots (just yet…) so we left the album on our shelf to mature for a few months. Now let’s gather our thoughts and critically reflect. Here we go!
Lingering, spacious and smart are words that come to mind after hearing Skinty Fia’s first songs. In Ár Groíthe Go Deo, based on a monotone baseline and a spooky choir, tells a story about an Irish woman who battled the Church Of England for the right to inscribe the titular Gaelic phrase into her gravestone. So Fontaines D.C. hits the ground running and doesn’t shun to open old wounds in probably one of their best songs to date. The band continues in this fashion on Big Shot which is a melancholic autobiography ballad about stardom. The loneliness that breathes from the lyrics: “Found the moon too small, and home is a pin, rusting through a map” which is supported by a spacious production that symbolises the emptiness of fame but at the same also sounds a bit dull. The same effective production is used on How Cold Love Is. Here the echo seems tailor made for singer Grian Chatten who’s rhetorical singing brings about some heavy weariness. Again dullness kicks in but Chatten’s blunt cries into the void saves the day.
Up until this point Skinty Fia doesen’t deliver. Second half center pieces Jacky Down The Line and Roman Holiday also don’t push the album in the right direction. The many do do do’s and la la la’s on the first or the heavy use of echo on the latter are a let down. Also much of the other songs simply sound too Joy Division-ish or too radio friendly. Snappy snares and atmospheric lead-guitar keep tumbling over each other on I Love You and Nabokov while the strobe-lit title track has nothing to do with post-punk anymore. Lyrically however the Chatten keeps delivering by balladeering about difficult relationships, dislocation and the city of Dublin. The only positive contrast on the second part of the album is The Couple Across the Way. Here Chatten, only accompanied by an accordion, pry’s on a painful breakup. The sparse instrumentation and poetic words, “You use voices on the phone, that were once spent on me”, make it one of the best songs the band ever made. See the irony here?
Apart from a few winners and some dark rhythms and themes Skinty Fia is not the addition to their catalogue we hoped for. Much of the album’s simple chords and vocals drown in an abundance of echoes. Worst thing is that Fontaines D.C. seems to settle for this accessible sound. If it wasn’t for Chatten we could easily confuse Fontaines D.C. with Coldplay. The band is hardly a shadow of the upfront “band to watch” we heard on Dogrel. God forbid if Skinty Fia is morphed into a remix album by let’s say, DJ Hardwell, next. Let’s hope the band doesn’t get weary and goed all in on the stream count business. So lads, take it from us: Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!
Label: Partisan, 2022
- In ár gCroíthe Go Deo (5:59)
- Big Shot (4:13)
- How Cold Love Is (3:24)
- Jackie Down the Line (4:01)
- Bloomsday (4:30)
- Roman Holiday (4:28)
- The Couple Across the Way (3:56)
- Skinty Fia (3:55)
- I Love You (5:05)
- Nabokov (5:21)
- Carlos O’Connell – guitar, backing vocals
- Conor Curley – guitar, piano, backing vocals
- Conor Deegan III – bass guitar, guitar, backing vocals
- Grian Chatten – lead vocals, tambourine
- Tom Coll – drums, percussion, guitar
Review by Wander Meulemans // 120722