MODERN ALBUM REVIEW: Fontaines DC’s ‘A Hero’s Death’ (2020)

Arriving just over a year after their critically acclaimed debut, Dogrel, Fontaines DC’s second album aims to build on the sound that captivated audiences the world over. That said, the album does little to emulate their debut, but instead finds the Irish quintet reflecting and investigating their own successes, as well as the fame and critical acclaim brought to them by their debut, with an different overall sound.

Reflection is the key lyrical theme dominating this LP. The record feels reflective and cynical throughout and features lyrics that often look back at the band’s recent past. This is a clear deviation from the optimistic slogans such as “I’m gonna be big” featured in their debut. Nobody, though, could have seen just how big they would become and this album seems to be the band taking their foot off the gas to just consolidate and reflect on their meteoric rise. 

The title track was the first to be penned by the band’s lead singer, Grian Chatten, who wrote it in the corner of a club whilst the rest of the band were listening to ‘Dogrel’. Although the concept of reflection is key to the album as a whole, and clearly an emotion Chatten was experiencing throughout writing it, the track makes a point of looking to the future. Chatten himself has said that, while writing it, he wanted to make sure that he felt everything good he is yet to do is in his future, rather than his past, hence the opening line: “don’t get stuck in the past.”

The reflective makes further appearences at various points on the album, track five, ‘You Said’, hammers it home as Chatten reflects on past mistakes and recognises the error of his ways. Similarly, the album’s closer ‘No’ stands out as a lyrical highlight on the record and finds Chatten at his most sincere: “Please don’t lock yourself away, just appreciate the grey” he sings, speaking to the listener as if they were a friend in need of consoling. This almost motherly advice is also echoed in the title track as Chatten assures the listener that “life ain’t always empty” and implores them to “tell your mother that you love her, and go out of your way for others.”

Chatten is as defiant as he is reflective at points in the album though, singing “I don’t belong to anyone” and “I was not born to do another man’s bidding.” These lyrics show Chatten to be at odds with himself as if he is trying to assert his own independence, while simultaneously keep himself grounded during the band’s rise to fame. He himself has said he writes to remind himself he’s alive, to maintain his status as an individual and it’s these songs that showcase this.   

Musically, the album often takes inspiration from The Beach Boys, an unlikely source for an Irish Post-Punk band but nonetheless a welcome addition to the makeup of the band’s sound. Specifically, Fontaines DC take inspiration from the arrangement of harmonies that The Beach Boys were known for and there is a clear attempt from the band to depart from the sweaty, noisy sound of their debut, to a more Wilson-inspired psychedelic and dream-like sound. At times on the record the backing vocals are almost reminiscent of early Motown hits as they drift in and out of the foreground. Overall there’s a generally want-away feel to the sound of this record, as if it’s floating around just above the floor, rather than replicating the heavy footed and in your face sound of ‘Dogrel’. It’s not so dreamy that it could be called a psych album, but it’s clearly removed from the full fat Post-Punk of their debut.

Circumstances have meant that the record, which dropped at the end of July 2020, hasn’t yet been taken on tour and has instead soundtracked its listener’s lockdowns. The record provided me personally with something to occupy those long hours sat at home, and the lyrics acted as a kind of guidance of how to live life post lockdown. The context in which the album was released makes it more relevant and compelling; lockdown was a time of personal reflection for a lot of people and self reflection is at the core of what this album aims to do. Through writing for a personal need of reflection, Chatten provides his listeners with a vehicle with which to do the same. Further to this, the sound of the album is well suited to the modern world; whereby it feels softer and more gentle than its predecessor, providing listeners with a motive to put it on in these softer and slower days. 

Overall I think the album builds on what the band started in ‘Dogrel’, and succeeds in showcasing the band’s ability to experiment with different kinds of sounds drawn from different inspirations. Chatten also succeeds in solidifying his status as a great writer, who’s lyrics are able to appeal to people en masse. Is it better than their debut? I don’t think so. For me the attempt to slow down into a more drifting sound hasn’t bettered the sound of their debut, just changed its direction. 

Want more Fontaines D.C reviews? Check out my review of the band’s debut, ‘Dogrel’ HERE

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