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‘Irishness existing in England’: the brilliance of Skinty Fia

Josie Thornton explains why she enjoys Fontaines D.C.'s third album so much

I first came across Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. when my brother brought me their debut album on vinyl for Christmas, back in 2019. The Guardian hailed ‘Dogrel’ as ‘brilliant, top to bottom’, and the album twinkled with a five-star review from NME. Only eighteen months later the Dublin boys were releasing their second studio album, ‘A Hero’s Death’ (2020), which, sure enough, received a similar level of acclaim. The sound on both records was exciting and boisterous, where lead singer Grian Chatten’s unforgivingly gritty vocals captured a state of rebellious nihilism and refusenik tendencies – songs like ‘I Don’t Belong’ and ‘Too Real’ spring to mind as early instances of the bands’ sneering sincerity .

As is often the question when gifted with a jewel of an album, fans are quick to wonder – what will come next? A successful third record requires something intricate from the artist – the ability to maintain the careful identity that fans have come to love, whilst marking out a new pathway; experimenting without taking things too far. Fontaines D.C., however, seemed to have managed just that, with their recently released third album ‘Skinty Fia’ reaching the top of both UK and Irish album charts in just the first week of its release.

The album’s title roughly translates from Gaelic into ‘the damnation of the deer’, with the cover featuring the jarring blur of a deer in the unearthly red glow of a domestic hallway. The record seems to stand for a certain sense of doom and inevitability, with the darkly humorous ‘Jackie Down the Line’ exploring the allure of being bad in a world obsessed with trying to be good, and ‘I Love You’ weighing up the obsession and pain of relationships. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the band explained how the record explores ‘Irishness existing in England’, and the creation of what frontman Grian Chatten labels ‘a new kind of culture in general’. Just as Ireland flows through the veins of the band, where D.C. stands for Dublin City, the track list has distinct concerns with the notion of Irish identity, with Gaelic opening track ‘In ár gCroíthe go deo’, the Joyce echoes of ‘Bloomsday’, and the stripped back accordion of ‘The Couple Across the Way’.

But it’s the title track of the album, ‘Skinty Fia’, that merits special attention. The same recognisably unapologetic lyrics, but this time you have to wait a little while for them to kick in; instead, the song builds up with synth-like bass and electric melodies, an alluring and striking combination that perfectly resonates with the dark and brutal truth-telling of the words which it accompanies – ‘a set of manners and a smile is all they want from you’. The music video is equally dark and enchanting, as Chatten wanders through a crowd in a dimly lit party hall, unwavering in his eye contact, with intermittent flashes of straw men, snakes and deer amongst successive flashes of neon pinks and blues, creating a tense sense of voo-doo allure and hallucination.

Overall, the sound of the third album feels more carefully crafted and deliberate, especially in comparison to the boys’ earlier singles such as ‘Liberty Belle’, which, unarguably enchanting in its own right, seems somewhat more boisterous and mouthy than tracks from the new album. The poetry of the lyrics, however, remains just as distinctively catchy and intelligent as ever  – a reassuring sign that Fontaines D.C. are far from losing their unique post-punk spark.

It’s easy to say that an album is praise-worthy, but harder to prove it. Perhaps in telling you to give ‘Skinty Fia’ a listen all I am doing is making you more determined not to do so, in an act of moody and rebellious defiance. If that does turn out to be the case, all that I can say is this: I think that the Dublin boys would be extremely proud. 

Image credit: Paul Hudson / CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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