- 05 May 20
Seconds Out. Round Two.
Everybody loves a winner, as the great William Bell once told us, and Fontaines D.C. have taken all the rock n' roll medals in the thirteen months since the release of their (almost) universally adored debut-album Dogrel.
Let us now praise famous men, and examine the evidence. People sat up and took notice from the off, or at least they now claim to have done. Those first three singles - ‘Liberty Belle’, ‘Hurricane Laughter’, and ‘Chequeless Reckless’/’Boys In The Better Land’ - are what their reputation is built on, and reputations have been built on a hell of a lot less. Indeed, let us laud their literary sensibilities, their co-opting of street tumbling Dublinese, the marvellously evocative aesthetic that stretched across the sleeve art of each release, but most of all, let us celebrate rock songs that actually rock. If that seems an obvious point, then how come so many bands miss it? ‘Boys In The Better Land’ takes a three-chord trick so old that one might presume there’s a sketch of it on the cave walls of Lascaux, and turns it into something gloriously now. It’s charged with something that pushes a button in the lizard part of your brain and sets your extremities twitching. That’s rock n’ roll.
And that’s just the records. Live, they shine even brighter. I could point to several evenings when they nearly took my head clean off, but that night in Listowel, at Mike The Pies, will take some beating. Their wall-of-sound, almost impossibly loud, swept over and through those of us fortunate enough to be squeezed into the back room, causing every molecule present to vibrate at their chosen frequency. That’s rock n’ roll.
How do you follow-up and carry-on from the kind of impact that Fontaines D.C. have had? For all intents and purposes, they're in a similar position to where The Strokes were after album #1: you stopped everyone in their tracks, with your tracks, so now what? Can these Francis St Irregulars deliver again? They've got what every band wants, our attention. Now you’ve got it, what have you got?
The first new material since the album’s triumph is exclusively broadcast on BBC Radio 1’s Future Sounds with Annie Mac. See? Big time. Sitting through a half an hour of the marvellously inane Tim Westwood-style DJ “shout outs” where everything is amazing would test anyone’s patience, but when we get there, it’s worth it.
Finally, we get drums that could be lifted from the glory that was The Sweet, or even Sultans Of Ping, a clanging guitar, and then some Ooh, Ooh backing vocals as the descending riff kicks in. There was a blast of this that night back in Listowel. Grian Chatten tells Mac he wrote it just after finishing the first record, and that it adopts the repetitious hammered mantras of advertising slogans “Life ain’t always empty,” repeats the singer before he goes into some reasons to be cheerful. He tips his hat to his Ma, and advises us to “go out of our way for others.”
The guitars slash and circle around one chord, “When you speak, speak sincere and believe me friend everyone will hear” The lads in the background go from Ooh Ooh to Bah Bah Bah, The Beach Boys as Boot Boys. The guitars and bass drop in and out as Grian offers more advice, “if you finds yourself in the family way, give the kid more than you got in your day.” This is the Dylan of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ if he were casting those scribbled aphorisms to the ground beside the smoking barrels outside the Garage Bar, with Behan arsing around in the background instead of Ginsberg, probably looking for a few quid in return for his borrowed title. The metronome guitars come back in, the riff grows louder, nagging, insistent, growling, malevolent, as Grian winds up his homily of hope:
"Each day is where it all begins,
Don’t give up too quick,
You only get one line, you better make it stick,
If we give ourselves to every breath,
then we’re all in the running for a hero’s death"
That last one might be his best line yet. A lyric to lift, at a time when we need it most, a hand held up to slap the maw of depression, a roadmap with a way out. There’s an album with the same name due on the 31st of July. He's right. Life Ain’t Always Empty.