The 50 best albums of 2022: No 9 – Fontaines DC: Skinty Fia

The Dublin five-piece relinquished rabble-rousing post-punk to create their most introspective and unexpected album yet

Fontaines DC have been on quite the journey over the course of their three albums to date. Their 2019 instant classic Dogrel was – unsurprisingly, from a band named after Dublin city – largely set in the Irish capital. In a refreshingly unfettered accent, singer Grian Chatten delivered punky, rumbustious songs brimming with references to specific pubs and characters, from the ranting preacher on Chequeless Reckless to the anglophobic cabby of Boys in the Better Land. A year later, they took a left turn with A Hero’s Death. Mostly written and recorded while touring Dogrel, these songs were slower, more brooding, reflecting the band’s feelings of burnout and dislocation amid a gruelling schedule and guilt over their success.

This year’s Skinty Fia signalled their most radical metamorphosis yet. There aren’t too many signs left of Dogrel’s rabble-rousing punk; instead, the band have become more reflective while also throwing in curveballs, bringing in new textures from Irish folk accordion to hints of drum’n’bass.

Fontaines DC: Jackie Down the Line – video

Once again, it was chiefly driven by considerable shifts in geography after the five-piece left Dublin to set up home in London. This time, the songs mostly address Ireland and Irishness from the viewpoint of the Irish diaspora abroad, acknowledging the band’s need to broaden their horizons while holding on to strong, if occasionally bittersweet, affection for their homeland. Chatten’s relationship with his home country forms the album’s prickly but compelling undercurrent. Roman Holiday details the singer’s experiences as a conflicted anglo-Irishman (his mother is English) in London: “Whose side are you on? I don’t wanna see the Queen.”

Digging into the disconnect between ordinary humans and societal structures, Fontaines DC make unusual subjects seem universal. The haunting opener, In ár gCroíthe go deo, begins with a choir and takes its title from an Irish Post story about an Irish woman in the UK who, absurdly, had to battle the Church of England to have the inscription (meaning “in our hearts forever”) on her gravestone. Then there’s the brilliant I Love You, informed by the 2017 Tuam care home scandal, which unearthed the remains of 800 babies. (“This island’s run by sharks with children’s bones stuck in their jaws.”) Another highlight, Jackie Down the Line, addresses cycles of abuse. Ironically, it’s already become a live singalong: like the Smiths or the Pogues, Fontaines have realised that you can address all manner of uncomfortable topics if the tunes are strong enough.

That includes inner conflict. The wistful Bloomsday finds Chatten struggling to reconcile his romantic visions of James Joyce’s Dublin with the gentrified modern reality. The title track addresses the straightforward enough subject of early fame, but from a less obvious angle: how it feels to realise everyone has an opinion about you. Chatten delivers the words with a black, slightly Morrissey-esque sense of humour that Fontaines aren’t generally given credit for: “I’m not inclined towards the scandalous word but on the subject of myself I do believe what I’ve heard.” The accordion crops up on The Couple Across the Way, Chatten’s brutal yet empathic observations of a couple living across the way, whose relationship has become cold and toxic. Lines hit home like a boxer’s jabs: “You use voices on the phone that were once spent on me.”

Encouragingly, the band’s adventures are taking their fanbase with them – no less than nine of Skinty Fia’s 10 songs are being played on the current tour. You thrill at where they’ll travel next.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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