Sunday, 14 April 2019

Album: Fontaines D.C. - Dogrel

Fontaines D.C. - Dogrel

Dublin post-punk quintet Fontaines D.C. released their eagerly awaited debut album Dogrel on Friday, the culmination of more than a few years of graft, live appearances and touring. With a central theme revolving around a love / despair relationship with the capital city they call home, the path from childhood to adulthood, societal malaise and the tunnel with no light at the end of it that young people in Ireland are faced with, the branches are many and spread across all 11 tracks.

Rattling straight out of the blocks with recent single 'Big' the band push their intransigent angst right up to your nose and ears, this is how it's going to be, listen up. The opening lines are a withering indictment of suffering imposed on the meek; "Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind, starch those sheets for the birdhouse jail" possibly a direct reference to the cruel Magdalene Laundries which are dotted around the poorest areas of the city. Our protagonist however is not going to become subordinated to theocratic rule in his city.

Following The Clash-indebted 'Sha Sha Sha', a satirical sleight at the dark underbelly of night-life and the characters that play it out with a sweet guitar riff at 1:32, comes 'Too Real'. The defiance in the face of subjugation rises again, the money men have stolen your youth, a current and topical commentary on the ongoing (and worsening) reality facing young people who merely want a fair opportunity to build a decent life in their home country. A rebuke to the greed which grows like a fatberg as it gets fed more and more money, with a cartoon smile it drags itself across the land leaving crumbling futures in its wake. 

Another classic post-punk act casts its ghost over 'Television Screens', this time it's Joy Division with a hint of early Idlewild. It's a melodic affair but minus the fury we've encountered to date, despondent and melancholic, Fontaines D.C. temporarily submit to the overwhelming obstacles they rage against. Early single 'Hurricane Laughter' is an epically raucous diamond of a track, aggressive, strident and staring you chillingly straight in the eyes. A song whose lyrics would have probably (definitely) seen it censored and banned in McQuaid's Ireland, a broadside at the morally corrupt men in robes who plundered childhoods for gratification. 

'Roy's Tune' is a pretty lament which shows another side to frontman Grian Chatten's voice, anguish subsiding to tenderness, the dulcet tone carries a regretful sadness that has been carried around for a long time in the most mentally burdensome manner. My current favourite track on Dogrel is 'The Lotts', a classic post-punk bass-line snakes through the song, the atmosphere is sullen but with a flicker of hopeful light, here Fontaines D.C. excel at building energy, dropping off, and rising once again. 

The first of three singles to run consecutively into the second half of the album, 'Chequeless Reckless' is Fontaines D.C., it encapsulated almost all of their song-writing traits and themes in two minutes and fifteen seconds. The opening guitar riff, Chatten's penchant for spoken-word lyrics which ensure you, the listener, get the message loud and clear. "A sellout, is someone who becomes a hypocrite, in the name of money // An idiot, is someone who lets their education do all of their thinking // A phoney is someone who demands respect from the principles they effect". These lines along with later verses again reference the cancer of greed eating away at the rightful goal of an egalitarian society, heavy stuff articulated so well. In summary it targets the demise of independent thought, and a willingness, almost enthusiastic in nature, to sprint off the cliff into a sea of economic slavery.

The debut single 'Liberty Belle' was absolutely the correct choice for the groups first recorded share with the music public. It's the most light-hearted moment on the album, it's invigorating and the appeal is instant, infused with all of the best elements of classic old school rock that sounds timeless. An homage to the local watering-hole on Francis Street near where the band studied music, as a long-term resident in the neighbourhood I can't help but crack a mental smile at the opening line; "You know I love that violence that you get around here, that kind of ready steady violence..." but it's not a disparaging observation in the lyric, more a loving ode filled with humour. 

After the bumpy and fun bluster of the chaotic 'Boys in the Better Land', a curve-ball, and a truly appreciable one at that. The first time I listened to 'Dublin City Sky' I felt a little lump in the throat, aside from the obvious dirge to the capital, it flooded my mind with memories of growing up in a stale, grey, coal-filled city in the 1980's, an unrecognisable version today. The folk poetry of the lyrics nod their head to The Pogues and The Waterboys, something I just did not expect to hear on Dogrel given the singles released to date, it's a sound and tone that fits the band very, very well. We all think we know what Fontaines D.C. are all about, but perhaps we don't have a clue, we'll only learn a little bit more with each release. 

Local music is currently in the healthiest state it has ever been, and the fruits are now being born, two years ago bands were hoping to get people into their shows, now they're selling out, they were hoping to record an album, now they're getting signed to European labels. Fontaines D.C. will / are being held up as the Olympian torch bearers for the independent music scene as a result of the huge comparative success they have attained to date. With such success comes snipers who have been waiting a long time, patiently in the long-grass, to controversially attach their name to this rising tide. That doesn't mean there should be no analysis of any shortcomings however, so long as they're coming from a genuine and dispassionate place.

Dogrel is rightfully being lauded as one of the best Irish albums to be released this year so far and probably further back, but the band themselves will be aware that a debut album is rarely perfect, in a strange way it would be disappointing if it was. Influences that pop up early in the album could be a little less overt, and I personally felt the second half of the LP was more coherent than the first and that Fontaines D.C. were more in their natural habitat as the album progressed beyond the first 4 or 5 tracks. Those small gripes aside I love Dogrel, it means something more than the sum of its parts, it is powerful, insightful and a wonderfully poetic piece of social commentary told through a wide variety of different characters. I've rarely been more excited about a sophomore album so soon after a debut has been released. Those who have followed the Irish music scene closely over the last 6 or 7 years desperately needed a band like them to achieve what they have so everything hasn't just been in vain, and for that I'm incredibly grateful to them.