Fontaines D.C. don’t care about success, and they let you know it with their second album, A Hero’s Death. That doesn’t mean they’ve phoned it in with zero conviction. Quite the opposite: the Irish quintet can’t believe in their new album more. A Hero’s Death is a moodier, broodier pivot from their blustering 2019 debut, Dogrel. The band know the change might turn away some fans, and they’re okay with it; they’re okay being the hero in “A Hero’s Death.”
For the new album, the band drew inspiration from the Birthday Party, Broadcast, Suicide, Pixies, Lee Hazelwood, and Leonard Cohen. These artists’ influence is evident in the angular album’s many dour corners. It’s also evident in the impressionistic, disjointed lyrics, which reaffirm the band’s reputation for wordsmithery. “Dragged old man / Kissed and ran / LickedAway / Osprey tan,” singer Grian Chatten drawls in a droopy brogue on “Living in America.”
On Dogrel, Chatten painted palpable scenes of the band’s home town of Dublin. One can almost smell the wet pavement and feel the crush of pedestrians when he sings, “Dublin in the rain is mine / A pregnant city with a Catholic mind” on “Big.” But the lyrics of A Hero’s Death are much broader. Chatten waxes about ambition, success, and staying grounded. “You said you been on the brink, so slow down / Don’t get time to think now / You try operating faster, operating faster, operating…” Chatten trails off on “You Said,” like the object person is trying to operate faster forever.
A Hero’s Death is more delocalized than its predecessor, but the sunny influence of California seeps into its title track. Above bopping harmonies, which the band played around with while driving through the Golden State and listening to the Beach Boys, Chatten shares wisdom about how to be a good, grounded person and manage your expectations. “Don’t get stuck in the past.” “Go out of your way for others.” “Happiness really ain’t all about luck.” “When you speak, speak sincere, and believe me, friend, everyone will hear.” The song isn’t particularly upbeat, but it’s still one of the album’s brightest spots.
If Chatten doesn’t paint dreary scenes of Dublin with his words on A Hero’s Death, the band does so through the music. The shadowy “I Don’t Belong” calls to mind the crumbling cityscapes of PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. And then there’s the murky, still/stalewater “Sunny.” In contrast, though, is “Oh Such A Spring.” This song is Fontaines D.C. at their most placid. If fans enjoyed “Roy’s Tune” or “Dublin City Sky” from Dogrel, they should take no issue with “Oh Such A Spring.” And unlike “Sunny,” it’s placid in a peaceful sense.
Whether fans take to A Hero’s Death or not, Fontaines D.C. are more than at peace with it. Andthe band are willing to go down fighting in its defense.
Review by Leslie Chu