There are albums whose release we expect with a very high degree of trepidation, as the (temporary, but no less important for that) end point of a trajectory that we have followed with a lot of emotional commitment. The stakes are always high in that kind of situation – even a partial disappointment would be hard to get over. For me, Dogrel, the first long player from Irish punk band Fontaines D.C., was one such album.
I have been following the band for a long time now, and they have earned a place among my steadiest favourites; I have seen them live more than once, and developed a deep-seated love for their confrontational stage presence, the way they can adapt their sound to fill a larger venue or bounce off the walls of a smaller one, the intriguing, intelligent things they are doing when playing with genres. I have a fairly intense relationship with some of their past singles, of which, I was aware, there would be new versions on the album. On my first play of Dogrel I was pretty much holding my breath. Having listened to it almost non-stop through the weekend following its release, I can now be at peace in the knowledge that the album is not only all I hoped it would be, but much more.
There is no doubt that the band’s music is deeply tied to Ireland, not only in the unrepentant Dublin accent of frontman Grian Chatten, whose delivery is always as personal as in their live performances – confrontational, cutting, surprisingly melodic in places, flirting here and there with slam poetry – but also in the themes they address and the way they approach them. If you want an Irish bands’ take on the enforced centrality of neighbouring Britain and the push to go there if you seek success, go no further than ‘Boys in the Better Land‘: “If you’re a rockstar, pornstar, superstar, doesn’t matter what you are, get yourself a good car and get out of here,” the song snarls sarcastically, leaving us with the nagging suspicion that the titular better land isn’t really any better. A deep bond with Ireland emerges in the sound too, in tracks like the unexpectedly catchy ‘Liberty Belle‘ (already a fan favourite, and for good reason), and in the lyrics of latest single ‘Big,’ a short song with a strong punch that opens the record with a manifesto-like statement: “Dublin in the rain is mine/ A pregnant city with a Catholic mind […] My childhood was small/ But I’m gonna be big.”
First albums often have a programmatic nature and a bit of the manifesto there, and there are other places in Dogrel where this is found, too. The title refers to a form of street poetry, and the album has much of the street to it, a clear working-class voice that is far from apolitical. I have seen Fontaines D.C. described as everything from indie rock to grunge, but the album is full of pointers to its true nature, which is absolutely punk, in the more unadulterated sense of the word. Listen to the guitars on tracks like ‘Sha Sha Sha‘ and try, if you can, not to think of The Clash. ‘Chequeless Reckless,’ possibly the most aggressive song in an album that never loses its bite for a moment, could almost be a new twist on a Sex Pistols song. ‘The Lotts‘ offers a new take on punk entirely, updated for the new millennium, with quickfire vocals that devolve almost into screaming in points. ‘Too Real‘ is the band in their purest form, bold, harsh, and provocative. And ‘Roy’s Tune,’ a deceptively melodic favourite of mine, which has chords almost reminiscent of the Rolling Stones, evokes the spectre of the corporate monster always described by punk as the great enemy while also dropping the most famous of punk catchphrases: “It was the message I heard when the company said/ There is no warning and there is no future.”
Like all punk, this album too cannot escape its political nature, and instead it confronts it head-on. It can’t be otherwise, and it’s a very welcome voice in times like this. Some tracks find a way to be experimental without losing their attitude: it is the case with ‘Television Screens,’ which highlights some impressive work on drums (as a side note, drummer Tom Coll does something quite special throughout the record, and his work is among my favourite things about this album) and with live favourite ‘Hurricane Laughter,’ which preserves its obsessive, pounding nature and its almost-electronic guitars in this studio incarnation, thanks also to the savvy producing. The song provides pretty much the best description possible of the band’s sound, in its own words: “Hurricane laughter/ Tearing down the plaster.”
With the chaotic ending of ‘Boys in the Better Land,’ also the longest song of the album, the record might seem to be coming to its natural end, and yet there is one last song, almost an after-the-credits scene that provides a key to read the whole record. ‘Dublin City Sky‘ is without doubt an Irish ballad, in its chords, in its lyrics, in the way it is sung. It’s a little gem – an unexpected, powerful way to end the album, like a meaningful afterthought. What’s happening with Fontaines D.C. is all in there: a passionate new voice with a lot of strong opinions on the present, some very thrilling ideas for the future, and no intention to let themselves be forced to leave their past behind. For a first album, that’s quite the bold move; for one of my most awaited records of this year, it could not have delivered any better.
Fontaines D.C.’s debut album ‘Dogrel’ is out now on Partisan Records – available to Stream/Purchase here.
Fontaines D.C. still have some UK dates following the album release:
Tue 16th April – Bodega, Nottingham
Wed 17th April – The Garage, London
Thu 18th April – The Haunt, Brighton
Another UK tour has been announced for November.