Words: Heather Collier
There’s the scent of a thunderstorm in the air as we descend from that familiar cemented skyline. Resident Music is tucked away in a narrow, cobbled promenade, nestled between a jagged row of milk carton shopfronts. A stone’s throw from the shore, an eclectic mix of ticket holders line the way in anticipation, eager to catch a rare, intimate glimpse of a stool-perched rockstar – but Grian Chatten is anything but stripped back.
Once inside, it’s not long before he emerges onto a low-lit platform to a rapturous applause. His eyes are shielded behind thick, dark sunglasses, a sight that ordinarily might appear cold or distant, but Chatten is able to cut through with a ferocity and spirit that makes you feel like you’re the one being observed. At the very last minute he takes them off, making a quip to a mouthy passerby which has the place in stitches – and then we’re away.
His voice is hardened yet tender, with a haunting narration that is deeply observational of the world around him. He goes on to perform selected tracks from his debut solo album ‘Chaos For The Fly’, an unlikely blend of whimsy, acoustic folk and unsettling synths, along with a surprise performance of Fontaines D.C.’s ‘The Couple Across the Way’, which to the untrained ear, would fit rather nicely in this latest cluster of fables.
The album touches on the shared human experience of love, grief, romance, loneliness, failure, and the pain of being an onlooker. Feeling torn between who people think you are and who you know yourself to be. Chatten transforms all of this into something that is textured and tangible.
Filled with echoes from back home, he continues to pen a love letter to Ireland; a colourful tapestry of the people, experiences, and misadventures he has encountered along the way; their ruddy, windswept faces woven into the very fabric of his words.
Much like the shadowy caricatures cast across the album artwork, different characters begin to puppeteer their way into view; appearing in rainy harbours, eerie fairgrounds, half-cold beds, and a New York snowscape.
The nostalgia-inducing ‘Salt Throwers off a Truck’ in some ways reads as a timeless piece of poetry. Witty one-liners paint a postcard-worthy picture of couples “running leaves into kites” through a virgin snow, whilst others seek out arbitrary evenings of “dinner and sex”, but only under the convenience of “where trains go direct”. Reminiscent of a traditional Irish shanty, I find myself transported to the mid-December of my childhood – the poetry and jaunty rhymes that were once whispered to me beneath the red glow of a Christmas tree.
The vivacious ‘Bob’s Casino’ has a drunken, carnivalesque feel that explores the uncanny and macabre nature of forgotten seaside towns, and the people who are inevitably forgotten with them. It heeds a warning towards injustice and the forces that govern the working class, but this bleak scene is quickly snuffed out by a hopeful, female vocal – a beacon in the midst of rundown arcades and seedy casinos.
‘All Of The People’ wrestles with the idea of overnight success and becoming a post-punk pin-up. Chatten addresses the collective “you”, claiming that we do not know him, nor do we love him – we only think that we do. Bitter and frustrated, he recounts tales of yes-men, hangers-on and transactional friendships that are part of the price of being in a famous rock band.
Perhaps the most stirring track of all is ‘Fairlies’, an upbeat, theatrical blend of singing and talking, with each verse evoking a more seductive, dreamlike tone that could be likened to Leonard Cohen. Ominous fairytale imagery is laced throughout – fairies and spinning wheels lure you in under their spell, a further confirmation that Chatten is still very much tethered to his literary influences. The track reaches its crescendo with crazed strings and runaway piano that drives you to listen over and over again.
With a glint of Lee Hazlewood in his eye, Chatten’s honest storytelling and raw, gut-punch vocals have the ability to fine-tune a hushed room into a valiant roar. Beautiful and intelligent lyricism paired with an unwavering, electric performance leaves your soul hanging in mid-air long after the last train home.
The phrase “What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly” is said to be coined by American cartoonist Charles Addams, suggesting that the context of any situation depends entirely on one’s perspective. What may be considered “normal” for one person, may in fact be a nightmare for another.
Grappling with the turbulence of the public eye and the isolation of being on tour, Chatten’s writing allows him to relive and understand many of the moments during this chaotic time that in a sense have been stolen from him, or simply out of his control.
As the frontman of a band that’s known for its tough love lyrics, prickly guitar, and in-your-face cynicism, it’s easy to compare the two, but there’s really no need. Chaos For The Fly stands firmly on its own and isn’t afraid to do so.
Like with any great story, you lean in – and you listen. And we did.