A magnificent third album which serves as the crowning point of a career that is, excitingly, still in its infancy
For a band that formed just five years ago, Fontaines DC have proved to be surprisingly prolific. Skinty Fia is their third album in three years, and you’d be forgiven for presuming that, by now, they may be sounding a bit tired.
Instead, it seems as if their work ethic has re-energised the Irish quintet. For, as good as Dogrel and A Hero’s Death were, they seem to be a mere stepping stone towards Skinty Fia, the band’s best album to date. While it is still very recognisably Fontaines DC, there seems to be a new sound emerging from the band – brooding, wistful and full of regret.
It sounds huge too – there’s a looming Gothic sensibility in the mould of The Cure or Nine Inch Nails on tracks like Big Shot or Bloomsday, while lead singer Grian Chatten’s voice has evolved from the stream of consciousness bark of early days to something more considered.
Chatten has described this album as being about the experiences of being Irish while living in London, and there are references to Irish identity all over Skinty Fia. The opening track In ár gCroíthe go deo takes its title from an Irish phrase meaning In Our Hearts Forever, which the Church Of England bizarrely deemed too political to be etched onto a gravestone, while the album title is an old Irish curse meaning “the damnation of the deer”.
Chatten is too clever a lyricist to let this fall into sentimentality or romanticism though. Instead, it’s the confusion and misplaced guilt of the ex-pat that shines brightest on Skinty Fia, especially on album highlight I Love You, which may be the best thing the band’s ever done – a relentlessly building number scattered with political and cultural references (“I loved you like a penny loves the pocket of the priest” and mention of “the gall of Fine Gael and the fail of Fianna Fáil”) with Chatten’s spoken-word vocals becoming ever more intense.
Despite the sometimes oppressive atmosphere though, Fontaines DC haven’t forgotten their more accessible side. Jackie Down The Line is a deceptively lovely little jangle of a tune which turns out to be about misanthropy and toxic masculinity, while the lovely, lilting Roman Holiday is filled with yearning, helped in no short part by Carlos O’Connell’s gorgeous guitar solos. The most musically startling moment though is The Couple Across The Way, apparently the result of the band’s attempt to record an album of traditional Irish music – just the sound of an accordion with Gratten overhearing an arguing couple and reflecting on destructive relationships. It’s a track that completely catches you offguard, especially with lines like “You use voices on the phone that were once spent on me”.
At first, it may all seem a bit too intense for a casual listen, but after a few plays it all clicks into place, from the baggy dance beats of the title track to the reverb soaked My Bloody Valentine-like squall of the closing Nabakov. It all adds up to a magnificent third album which serves as the crowning point of a career that is, excitingly, still in its infancy.