Fontaines D.C. have a lot riding on their shoulders. The young band from Dublin are consistently lumped in with IDLES and Shame as the one-shy Mount Rushmore of the new school post-punk revival. If I may exhaust the comparison between these bands further, IDLES knocked their sophomore out of the park with 2018’s Joy as an Act of Resistance, and they were the first of these groups up to bat. Back to Fontaines D.C. now, and their debut record Dogrel (from last year, no less) was a Mercury Prize nominee, for fucks sake. Now they have to top it? It’s almost not fair.
Dogrel was a series of candids of Ireland’s changing face. Not too political, but incredibly tuned into the social, the often ignored… the ticking inside. A breakthrough by a band filled with creative ideas, that surely would only sharpen the toolkit down the line, right? You’re up to plate… let’s get into A Hero’s Death.
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Opener ‘I Don’t Belong’ is a dead-end realisation that abruptly cuts off (and prevents continued visitation to) Memory Lane. Everything frontman Grian Chatten recollects ends the same way, wrapped in the idea that his nomad heart might be the problem. It’s a plod and it ‘goes nowhere’ in terms of paying off that plod, but if you feel that this choice does anything less than perfectly match what the song is invoking, you’re mad. ‘Love Is the Main Thing’ is a flavour much different. The endless rain of cymbals falling all over the track require you set up camp somewhere, and the simple rhyme scheme propping up the titular mantra seem a safe enough bet. Sure enough, it passes quickly.
‘Televised Mind’ is the eccentric sum-of-parts I’ve known was lurking here somewhere. With its multiple hooks and refrains, fluctuating guitar melodies and a drum performance that doesn’t stop pushing forward for ground… this is a banger at very first listen, no repeat necessary (although, if you’re offering). We discuss a world affected by the pursuit of fame, and the lies behind those glimmering enticements: “Water dreams of yesterday/ fall behind”.
The twinkly indie intro of ‘A Lucid Dream’ (a la Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Maps’ for a couple of seconds) is a fake out for the upmost urgency approach. This is a manic poem. True to the nature of the subject, there’s a lot of strange and confusing imagery, and Chatten begs to make sense of this sequence of events in the few bars of quiet interlude.
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Quality of life and conscientiousness make the bulletin board on ‘You Said’. A lot’s explained in only a few repetitive verses here, and slowing down to actually enjoy yourself is the message you’re to walk away with. This is the most ‘normal’ track on the album thus far, and it’s not a bad thing… such a simple yet often unheard sentiment requires drilling in.
‘Oh Such a Spring’ is another high point. A two minute ballad, forlorn with the future… even the present… totally locked into a specific time that cannot return. Whether mourning a literal spring or passing youth is up to you, you’ll get hit both ways: “The clouds cleared up, the sun hit the sky / I watched all the folks go to work just to die / And I wish I could go back to spring again”.
Cool down section over, and it’s time for the title track. Pump up Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’, send it off to fend for itself and it sounds like this… or maybe it’s more the alien propaganda from They Live fleshed out into full sentences: “You only get one line – you better make it stick/If we give ourselves to every breath, then we’re all in the running for a hero’s death”. Inspired by the endless motivation culture we’re shrouded in, and the unspoken treatment of human life as a product, this stings where it should.
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‘Living in America’ snarls a steady baritone that I hear some Nick Cave in. It’s a little unremarkable save for some fun zipping lead notes, and unfortunately, that’s not the only track I feel this way about. Up comes ‘I Was Not Born’, your lighters-up stadium anthem. It has the base components. Everything is steady and the lyrics can be absorbed with a once-over. Again, fine, but, not really for me.
Penultimate offering ‘Sunny’ tries some Brian Wilson on for size during the chorus, and well, I wasn’t expecting that. It’s as easy as the life Grian’s lived, by his own token in the lyrics here, and the simplistic vocal melody adds to the 60’s feel. Watch out for that preying riff in the back, however.
‘No’ is like the runner-up to the exemplary closer. You know the one I mean. All heart and size, go big to go home kinda deal. Honestly, this is better than that would be, and not just on the part of showing discipline. It contains for my money the best lyrical output on the whole project, as Grian gives tight advice, maybe to himself, about how not to throw a pity party post-split: “There’s no living to a life where all your fears are running rife/ And you’re mugged by your belief that you owe it all to grief/ No”.
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A Hero’s Death is an outreaching arm, that’s going way beyond Dublin. I am thoroughly impressed that Fontaines D.C. have managed so easily to slip into the role of a confident and capable band willing to commit completely to each and every idea that takes their fancy. There are a few misses, naturally, but not enough to weigh down the hits – hits that I’d wager over the very best stuff on Dogrel.
I still think they’re teasing us, and haven’t yet shown their hand, but why fix what’s working? I’ll certainly stick around for another album to find out. They’ve shook up the aesthetics, re-delivered on the charm and pensivity that established their name… I say let them take the rest of the schtick, they can have it.