Latest Fontaines D.C. album ‘closes eye’ on past but looks to future

fontaines DC A Hero's Death

‘‘Happiness is living in a closed eye’’ utters front man Grian Chatten on the penultimate track ‘Sunny’; one of the sweeter, more tender and introspective numbers on the eleven track sophomore album A Hero’s Death from Fontaines D.C.

Released just over a year after their mercury-prize nominated debut Dogrel, A Hero’s Death was written and recorded in a whirlwind of heavy touring. The act of ‘‘burning the candle at both ends’’, Chatten describes (rock ‘n’ roll clichés of heavy drinking and smoking included), is something that perhaps accounts for the slower and more meditative tone of these mostly strong new songs.

A change of pace

Moody opener ‘I Don’t Belong’ certainly reflects this new tone, with Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley’s simple yet effective guitar arrangement proving to be brooding and unnerving. Chatten’s now classic baritone vocal delivery cuts effortlessly through the wall of sound. The antithesis of the optimistic opener ‘Big’ on Dogrel, ‘I Don’t Belong’ delves deep into liberating and depressing aspects of loneliness, the pride in ‘‘dying for a cause’’ and throwing achievements away, ‘‘thew the medal to the dirt’’. 

Fontaines still retain their energy, however, ‘Love is the Main Thing’, ‘I Was Not Born’ and third single ‘Televised Mind’ offer chugging, fast-paced and exciting antidotes to the more reflective offerings on this album.

The high points

Tracks ‘Sunny’ ‘Such a Spring’ and ‘You Said’ are some of the strongest and most moving numbers on the LP, mixing influences from The Beach Boys to Interpol, and revealing new shades to the post-punk revivalists. Penultimate track ‘Sunny’ benefits from some swooning strings towards its climax – an unapologetically emotional side to the band that was hinted at with slower-paced Dogrel songs ‘Roy’s Tune’ and ‘Dublin City Sky’.

‘You Said’ has a swaggering but emotive guitar riff and ‘Such a Spring’ has hints of a classic Irish folk song.  It seems A Hero’s Death is at its best when Fontaines are brave enough to venture into this direction, rather than trying to recreate the dynamism and energy of their debut.

With this, the low points on the album include ‘Love is The Main Thing’, ‘A Lucid Dream’ and ‘I Was Not Born’. ‘Love is the Main Thing’ is instrumentally interesting but melodically clunky, with Chatten’s typically charismatic vocal performance falling into a monotonous drone.  ‘I Was Not Born’ reaches for the same moodiness and intent as ‘I Don’t Belong’ but seriously falters. Instead the track feels repetitive and boring. ‘A Lucid Dream’ similarly tries to recapture the energy of Dogrel – with its spoken-world style and rapid tempo – but also feels like the band is reaching and missing the mark.

A Hero’s Death

An exception to this rule is lead single and titular track ‘A Hero’s Death’. Described by Chatten as a ‘set of rules’ for oneself, the song is anthemic and perceptive in equal measure. Starting explosively with an infectious drum-beat from Tom Betts, and a head-bobbing one-note riff, the track chugs along, propelled by the mantra ‘life ain’t always empty’. Ironically poking fun at the false positivity of billboard advertisements, (perhaps shaped by the band’s time touring in America), ‘A Hero’s Death’ is a catchy, witty and vintage Fontaine’s D.C track.

Fontaines DC’s second record A Hero’s Death is a strong second album that hints at but fails to completely break into a more refined, mature sound. It has a ‘closed eye’ on the past but an open one to the future.