sun 14/07/2024

Album: Fontaines DC – Skinty Fia | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Fontaines DC – Skinty Fia

Album: Fontaines DC – Skinty Fia

Don't look for catharsis in the Irish band's tormented third album


Incanting, declaiming, and growling, as if actual singing might prettify the Fontaines DC’s post-punk dirges, Grian Chatten has never sounded more aggrieved than he does on the Irish combo’s third album. Disarmingly, he also sounds younger on Skinty Fia than he did on the group’s brash debut, Dogrel (2019), and its startlingly seasoned follow-up, A Hero’s Death (2020). 

It’s as if the man can no longer shield the boy. There’s a logical reason for this, and it applies not just to the frontman but to the Fontaines as a collective and the places they find themselves in, musically and geographically. It may sound tendentious, but “Mother Ireland” (in the ungendered pejorative sense) is hovering over and guilt-tripping the lads making these mordant songs of alienation and disaffection.

With the Fontaines on the cusp of global alt. rock domination, four members of the quintet have moved to London. They’ve been drawn to its Irish community and, apparently, been served that traditional English dish, xenophobia. Anger, bitterness, paranoia, and guilt suffuse the record’s lyrics, which Chattan delivers with all the giddy mirth of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith.

The guilt is for leaving the ould sod, but it’s what you might call ambivalent. “Looking for a thing no do-er’s done/ We won’t find it here my love/ Drinking with the tourists and fighting in front of them,” Chatten reflects on Dublin, where “There’s always fuckin’ rain and it’s always dark”, in the droney “Bloomsday”. 

Slivers of Celtic pride explain the resort to Gaelic. The title track (the curse words “Skinty Fia” mean “the damnation of the deer”) is a drum and bass threnody about a dying relationship on which Chatten almost raps. The chant-like opener “In ár gCroíthe go deo” (“in  our hearts forever”, an Irishwoman’s grave inscription that was initially banned in her English cemetery) uses flinty choral overdubs to mourn a lost love – “Gone is the day, gone is the night, gone is the day/ She defines the only answer/ And I never had the time”  – or  it could be a lost country. Unlike with Joy Division, say, there's no catharsis or transcendence to be found in the pain, only rancour, defeat and, on "Jackie Down the Line", contempt. On “Nabokov,” the closer, Chatten’s masochistic cries are all but drowned out by the guitars as they morph into machines. 

Despite the tendency of some Fontaines DC songs to become gruelling, foaming electronica and Carlos O'Connell and Conor Curley's spearing guitar lines, occasionally mixed low, keep others fierce, brooding, sinister, as if the Stone Roses had been de-jangled and given a Gothic makeover. Even when the rhythm's poppier than usual, as on "Jackie", drummer Tom Coll and bassist Conor Deegan III sound as if they came from a sump rather than a garage, their instruments rusty, fuzzy, shoegazey.

There’s nothing flash here either. The great, swollen, bendy chords on “Big Shot” – the lyrics and main riff written by O’Connell – don’t indulge bombast, they mock it, self-loathing to the fore. That said, they’d blow the roof off London’s O2 Arena or Madison Square Garden should Fontaines DC go the stadium route. Until then, Skinty Fia is the real deal.

'Mother Ireland' is hovering over and guilt-tripping the lads making these mordant songs of alienation and disaffection


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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