Hearing an Irish accent through your headphones makes you realise how seldom you do; or how seldom you hear an Irish accent laid bare, at least. On Skinty Fia, Fontaines D.C.’s new album, Irishness is palpable and prideful – a position the United Kingdom has not always encouraged it to be.
Combatting that is what this album is ultimately about. Not just the band’s Irishness, but the band’s Irishness in the face of living and working in London. It’s not an angry or confrontational tirade, but a confident and unflinching statement. For nothing reveals your identity like leaving home. Whether changing or cementing it, you don’t know where you’re from until you leave it behind.
Reducing Fontaines D.C. to their nationality does them a disservice, however. Of all Ireland’s musical exports, only one has become the nation’s new flagship, and that’s because they’re very, very good. On Skinty Fia, the band reaches new heights; a height at which a grand, maximalist sound is allowed to dominate, but tender, thoughtful, serious lyrics define the album.
I’m not the only one who stresses Ireland first. The band themselves do it. The album’s opener ‘In ar gCroíthe go deo’ – meaning ‘in our hearts forever’ – is a six-minute anthem, with the title a reference to an incident in 2018 where the Church of England ruled an Irish woman, whose family wanted the saying inscribed on her gravestone, must have an english translation alongside.
It kicks off a record more in the alt-rock sphere than post-punk. We already knew Fontaines D.C. could do both, but the catchy bass lines and drawn out vocals of front man Grian Chatten arrive early and exist throughout, with few examples of the band’s full-throttle punk. There are grungy moments – the titular single perhaps most of all – but the album is more restrained. On the precipice of exploding, but never all the way there.
For me, Skinty Fia is at its best when it’s slow. This is no more evident than on ‘The Couple Across The Way’ – one of my favourite songs of the year so far. Reserved and melancholic, it’s simple but poignant poetry from a disenfranchised 20-something, seemingly observing the world around him, rather than partaking in it. The lyrics are backed perfectly by a listless, traditional Irish-sounding accordion or harmonica or something. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful. Really beautiful. It makes me uneasy in a way only good music can.
In an interview with Mojo, bassist Conor Deegan said, “We had the ambition of making a double album. One half was going to be the record it is now, the other half was going to be Irish traditional music, or new songs we’d written in the style of Irish traditional music. ‘The Couple Across The Way’ was one of those.” If the rest were even nearly as good, oh how I hope that album eventually sees the light of day.
‘The Couple Across The Way’ is the most sedated point on the album, but ‘Big Shot’ and ‘How Cold Love Is’ are both examples of Fontaines D.C. thriving in the slower, if not quieter, settings. ‘Jackie Down the Line’ and the titular single, where the pace picks up, are also highlights on the album.
I want to give this album a perfect score. So I will. Maybe I’m too nice. It’s not perfect – it’s a tad longer than it needs to be and a tad repetitive at times. But it’s bold and brave and it makes you think as much as it makes you feel. That’s 5-stars for me.