Once in a while, a kick-ass debut album will come along to give us that special thrill of a young band arriving fully formed and ready take on the world on its own terms. Dogrel, the startling first offering from intense Irish quintet Fontaines D.C., is precisely that kind of record – one that instantly demands your attention from the get-go and is effortlessly memorable from top to bottom.
Drawing inspiration from The Pogues, post-punk, The Dubliners, surf-punk and 60s garage rock as well the poetry and writings of Brendan Behan and James Joyce, what makes Fontaines D.C. a really interesting proposition is their ready willingness to view their influences through a modernist lens rather than to use the past as a device to distort reality like many bands are wont to do. Rather than being beholden to good times gone by on a nostalgia trip, Fontaines D.C. feed off the anxiousness, disillusionment and urgency of the here and now to lend their music a confrontational edge and steely forward propulsion.
Also crucial to the band’s creativity is their fascinating, love/ hate relationship with their hometown of Dublin, which lies at heart of everything they write about. As if to hammer the point home, “Dublin in the rain is mine/ A pregnant city with a Catholic mind,” are the first lines one hears on Dogrel – just in case we hadn’t already figured that out from frontman Grian Chatten’s unfettered Irish brogue, pretty much the band’s most distinctive feature. His gruff, almost spoken word style of delivery recalls the megaphone rantings Mark E. Smith and a young, Yorkshire accented Alex Turner and is particularly effective when used to voice the rich characters that inhabit the band’s songs – the overconfident yuppie on album opener Big: “My childhood was small/ But I’m going to be big”; the anti-Brit cabbie on Boys In The Better Land; the ranting, religious nutter on Chequeless Reckless; the boisterous jack-the-lad on Liberty Belle, and so on.
The story goes that the band first bonded over a mutual love of the beat poetry of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and used to spend drinking sessions at the pub scribbling and reciting verses to each other – wholly believable given the band’s amazing way with evocative wordsmithery. Memorable lines are littered all over the album – “Driver’s got names to fill two double barrels/ He spits out ‘Brits out’, only smokes Carrolls” from the anthemic Boys In The Better Land; “You know I love that violence that you get around here/ That kind of ready-steady violence/ That violent ‘how do you do'” from the Ramones-esque punk bop of Liberty Belle; “Death is falling down on your work routine/ And it’s falling even harder on your churches and your queens” from The Lotts – to point out but a few of many choice couplets.
“Dogrel” is a word used for an old form of Irish poetry that utilises repetition and tragic comedy and which is usually associated with the working class. It’s also used to describe things that are bad – as in that film was “a piece of dogrel.” So in many ways, it seems quite a perfect name for the album by a band doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it describes the band and their music on this album quite perfectly – down-to-earth, poetic, rough around the edges and straight from the streets.
Raw, post-punk noise with attitude is something they definitely excel at – case in point being the caustic, searing Too Real. But it’s not all thumping drums, duelling guitars and ramalama shouty surf-punk workouts with the band showing off their range in impressive fashion on the album’s slower, moodier tracks. Roy’s Tune is a heartfelt ballad lost of hope and innocence and a feeling of being trapped in a desolate no man’s land that sounds like it could have been sung by The Smiths, such is its melancholic jangly nature, while The Lotts is almost post punk goth a la The Cure with its doomy, chorus-pedalled, Joy Division style bassline.
Elsewhere, Television Screens could almost double as a mellow version of Interpol whilst tender album closer Dublin City Sky finds Chatten channeling his inner Shane MacGowan in authentic, heartfelt fashion as the band try their hand at a poignant, traditional Celtic drinking serenade in impressive fashion. Like all good bands, Fontaines D.C. realise the need to strike a balance between the rage and romanticism within their repertoire and are fully aware of the fact that a whisper can sometimes carry as much potency as a scream.
Displaying the kind of quality songwriting prowess that belies their tender years as a band, Fontaines D.C. have shown on their debut album that they are already more than halfway to evolving into something incredibly unique and special. Very much a case of watch this space.