Now Irishmen living abroad, Fontaines D.C. have made a love album. But that’s only half the story…
Former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s autobiography was called No Irish, No Blacks No Dogs, a reference to the discriminatory window posters seen in London during the 1950s and 60s.
Widespread racism this blatant may have been rare, but the book’s title was an unnecessary reminder that Britain has always been picky about who it rolls the red carpet out to.
Conditions (may) have improved but, after Fontaines D.C.’s second album A Hero’s Death was released, four of the band – including singer Grian Chatten – decided to sample Anglo-Irish hospitality in person, relocating to England’s capital whilst bassist Conor ‘Deego’ Deegan flitted instead to Paris.
This is an emigratory journey made by thousands over time, but one that for a group who wrote their first album largely about the unravelling fabric of Dublin seems an unlikely choice.
Using their experiences post-arrival as fuel however, Skinty Fia (Irish for either ‘the damnation of the deer’ or ‘for fuck’s sake’, you decide) looks unsentimentally at kinship, identity and the camaraderie of self-made refugees.
Deegan has said that the original plan was to make a double album, the non-rock n’ roll half consisting of material with a traditional Irish sound.
After apparently deciding against only one escapee remains, The Couple Across The Way a rumination on love’s wax and wane, a song Chatten wrote after moving in opposite squabbling neighbours. Dignified and poignant, he plays it solo on the accordion.
Places and people are constant lyrical themes: opener In ár gCroíthe go deo, or In Our Hearts Forever, with its cloistered harmonies and slow building reveal, tells the story of a woman’s battle with the Church Of England to have her headstone inscription in Irish.
The reverb-doused Roman Holiday is about Chatten’s experiences in the capital and Britishness seen as a casual adversary – ‘I don’t wanna see the Queen’, he croons, ‘I already sing her song’, a reference to the concession of speaking somebody else’s tongue.
Being the diaspora can also change your relationship with the soil on which you were born. I Love You – sounding not indistinct from peak-era Smiths – references the self-interested parties of Ireland’s political duopoly Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, before dousing them with the bitter conviction that, ‘This island’s run by sharks with children’s bones stuck in their jaws’.
There are few obvious straight lines other than the one which takes the quintet’s longer standing fans further and further away from the ebullient post indie rock that characterised Dogrel.
Skinty Fia’s making saw the band listening to Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR and the gothic trip-hop of Death In Vegas’ Contino Sessions; the latter’s influence is plain in the scuzzy wind of the title-track.
What is clear is that there’s a resolute, almost hubristic confidence in wherever this goes. Bloomsday – which traverses their constantly imperfect relationship with Dublin – has a portentous echo of Joy Division, but it’s Jackie Down The Line that chills and thrills the most, a catalogue of threats-to-music in which the anger runs to impotence, its ‘la la las’ deadpan escapees from the random hit a stranger drowned at birth.
Privately, Fontaines D.C. have always cherished the idea of recording a trilogy of indelibly linked records without ever taking for granted how they would get there, and nobody could’ve foreseen how the dice would tumble since they began.
With voluntary exile and the motherland as their latest muse, Skinty Fia is a circle-closing masterpiece; guilt, hellfire and damnation raining down on those who can make their noises sound like a broken-down heaven, or the echoes of some fast-disappearing confession made across one man’s own sea.