Record Review: Fontaines D.C. “A Hero’s Death”

Heady, funny, and fearless, the Dublin band’s second album is a maudlin and manic triumph, a horror movie shot as comedy, equal parts future-shocked and handcuffed to history.

The Horsemen of the Apocalypse do not thunder and gallop. They lurch and stagger, weighed down by the grim burden of their brief. Slowly, they stalk humanity with an Amazon Prime package of grief, war, and pestilence, their approach suggested only by the mechanized drone of social media and cable news. When the end finally comes, it’s all so quotidian and tedious; a whimper, not a bang. All around us, the party is ending, and Fontaines D.C. are the final house band. The setlist is A Hero’s Death.

Slinking seeming fully-formed from Dublin’s working-class neighborhood The Liberties, the five-piece established themselves as bona fide inheritors of a centuries-long socialist-bohemian tradition on 2019’s post-post-punk document Dogrel, an album that weaved together the enduring groove of Gang of Four and the psychically dislocating poetry of Allen Ginsberg with unnervingly precocious aplomb. Dogrel was a shouty revelation—part early Mekons, part cider-addled James Brown & the JB’s—all of it suggestive of a crucial talent abuzz with live-wire intensity.

The jet-black comedy of their follow-up A Hero’s Death does nothing to detract from this view, instead geometrically expanding their cantankerous field of vision. Heady, funny, and fearless, A Hero’s Death is a maudlin and manic triumph, a horror movie shot as comedy, equal parts future-shocked and handcuffed to history. Memorable tunes and unforgettable phrases erupt like brush fire over the course of 47 minutes, the mood migrating at a moment’s notice from insouciant nihilism to full-blown rage to radical empathy. As one does these days.

“I Don’t Belong” is all lurking Daydream Nation-menace and nightmare groove, with lead singer Grian Chatten’s haunted incantation, “I don’t belong to anyone,” taking on multiple possible meanings over the song’s slow burn. “A Lucid Dream” steams by like a demented locomotive driven by punk-blues of the Gun Club, while “Televised Mind” turns the Stooges’ “TV Eye” inward, making manifest PiL’s prophecy of a narcotized zombie culture, too dazed and confused by the endless wave of corporate-tech idiotica to raise its voice above a monotone.

As a band, Fontaines D.C. are as forceful as they are versatile, with drummer Tom Coll proving equally adept at holding down the esoteric art-rock feel “Love Is the Main Thing” and the straight-as-string Velvet Underground homage of “I Was Not Born.” Guitarists Conor Curley and Carlos O’Connell harmonize and deconstruct in a more than credible echo of Television’s Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine. On the terrific, bummer-hang ballad “Oh Such a Spring,” which crops up halfway through the record, the group arrives at a state of beautiful brokenness.

But the heart of A Hero’s Death lies in stiff-upper-lip rockers like the title track, whose unnervingly catchy funeral-glam is rendered all the more frightening for its sprightliness, sounding a bit like “Ballroom Blitz” following the aversion therapy from A Clockwork Orange. “Life ain’t always empty!” Chatten stipulates with a clergy-barker certitude, and proceeds along with catchy-sounding corporate affirmations like, “Sit beneath a light that suits ya/And look forward to a better future.” It’s the Stones’ “Satisfaction” in reverse. No longer is the consumer unhappy with the product. It’s the product that is dissatisfied with you.

And then there is the final track, “No,” a big ballad, a perfect culminating statement, a pensive progression, when the Fontaines backburner their well-honed bitterness in the service of a larger question: Is a fight we’ve probably already lost still worth the fighting? When Chatten sings: “Please don’t lock yourself away/Just appreciate the grey,” the group’s half-measures optimism feels like a benediction. We get knocked down and then maybe, just maybe, we get up again.

Buy: Rough Trade

Source: Fontaines D.C.: A Hero’s Death

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