A Hero’s Death: Fontaines DC return with another unique, riotous masterpiece
Words by Thomas Farmer- @thomasfarmer5000 @TomFarmerJourno
Aside from picking outfits to wear and deciding what drugs to take, the second album is the hardest thing musicians have to do. Many artists have tried and failed to crack a second album after the success of a debut, as the La’s and the Franz Ferdinand can testify for. But some bands, after a massive debut, manage to live up to the hype- which perhaps helped the Artic Monkeys and Oasis to achieve legend status. After a mercury-nominated debut, Fontaines DC have joined the latter list, living up the punk hype which surrounds the Irish rockers.
Released last year, Fontaines’ debut “Dogrel” was a refreshing yet arguably traditional take on new wave punk, winning over the hearts of the likes of Johnny Marr to former Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. Only a year later, Fontaines DC are back with the follow-up entitled “A Hero’s Death”. Although the album name seems as if the Irish five-piece are foreshadowing their demise, the record has very much cemented the band’s innovator status, serving up another refreshing dish of post-punk passion.
The album is destined to split opinion. Grian Chatten, Fontaines’ poetic and laidback frontman, admitted the band are likely to “lose some of their fans” after the release of the second album. After listening to the opening two tracks, you can see why. If “Dogrel” was written for the general music layman and vague follower, “A Hero’s Death” is certainly written for the critic and connoisseur. By this, I mean that the debut was packed with crowd-pleasers, slightly more intellectual crowd-pleasers than a Courteeners-esque crowd-pleaser, but certainly constructed for immense live reaction. Instead, “a Hero’s Death” is much more technical and intellectual. The second album is made to be enjoyed on vinyl with a glass of malt whisky or a craft beer, whilst the first album is made to be enjoyed in a sweaty mosh pit soaked in cheap lager. This may explain the album’s exceptional praise in the music press, receiving a five-star review from the guardian and four stars from NME.
Having said that, “A Hero’s Death” does certainly maintain some of the aspects of Fontaines DC which made thousands of indie lovers become intoxicated with their punky yelling and heavy guitar. Just like many tracks on “Dogrel”, Fontaines maintain their Irish charm, with tracks you could hear sung by a bearded Irish man with an acoustic guitar on a bar stall in a small Dublin boozer. For example, during “Oh what a spring”, you can literally taste Guinness and smell pork scratchings. Similarly, the album also maintains Chatten’s cynical snarl, heard on “Dogrel” as he complained about Dublin taxi drivers and dereliction in his hometown. Instead, his cynicism moves international, criticising the wider world in “Living in America”. Fontaines’ self-deprecating cynicism also is omnipresent in the second record as it was in the debut, obviously most present in the album opener “I Don’t Belong”.
Having said that, the album is not without its flaws, albeit few of them. At some points during “A Hero’s Death”, you wonder whether Chatten and his band of New Romantics may have used up their best lyrics and song topics in “Dogrel”. For example, in the second track of the album “Love is the Main Thing”, the eponymous song title is repeated more than Liam Gallagher uses the phrase “Do you know what I mean” in TV interviews. Despite this, Chatten’s lack of imagination is rescued in the track “Hero’s Death”, which contains the corker of a line “Never let a clock tell you what you’ve got time for/It only goes around and around and around”. Although I’m not quite sure what it means, like a large proportion of Fontaines lyrics, it sounds pretty cool and philosophical.
Chatten was certainly right: The Fontaines faithful would have to learn to adapt to the new direction of the Irish punk rockers if they are to love the latest record as much as they loved the well-crafted and ground-breaking debut. But with the same bouncy riffs, philosophical yet not pretentious lyrics and traditional punk flare, Fontaines DC maintain the class that won over the hearts of thousands. ****