review: Fontaines D.C. lift off to new horizons on terrific 2nd LP ‘A Hero’s Death’
Not much more than a year since releasing their debut album, Dublin's Fontaines D.C. are back with their very confident second album. A Hero's Death reteams the band with producer Dan Carey but it doesn't feel like More Dogrel. The angst is still abundant but Fontaines D.C. have loosened up, feel more comfortable in their skin and, most importantly, are getting better as songwriters.
There are still the pent-up burners Dogrel had in spades, but the nervous claustrophobia has been replaced with a wide expanse; the walls may have been closing in but they've kicked through to the wild blue yonder. "Televised Mind" is like the Stooges on ecstacy (or early The Verve), while "A Lucid Dream" interpolates a lead guitar line very reminiscent of The Cure's "Jumping Someone Else's Train" but gone surfing, still decked out in black.
A Hero's Death's title track, meanwhile, may start like The Strokes but but soon becomes a runaway train, with a dark descending riff barrelling out of control while frontman Grian Chatten keeps things under control, reassuring us "life ain't always empty" against "bah bah bah" backing vocals that were inspired, for real, by the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson was apparently a big influence on the album, though you might not notice it till having it pointed out to you, like on the strings and bass that close "Sunny," striking a similar happy/sad vibe to something like Beach Boys' "Feel Flows."
Much of A Hero's Death explores a similar rose-tinted melancholia and a new, more atmospheric territory, at which the band prove to be quite adept. "You Said" floats down a lazy stream on a shuffling beat that would've fit right in in the baggy early '90s. "No," which closes the album, isn't much more than guitar and Chatten's strong voice, but is an affecting portrait of depression. "There’s no living to a life / Where all your fears are running rife / And you’re mugged by your belief That you owe it all to grief," he sings, arguing for hope and finding beauty where you can. "Just appreciate the grey."
That positivity, and their fierce independent streak, crops up on the striking "I Was Not Born," which is a bit like all aspects of the album in one strident piece of janglepop. Chatten triumphantly declares, "I was not born / Into this world / To do another man's bidding." Anthemiscism can be a narrow one-lane road that straddles "rousing" and "self-righteous pandering," but Fontaines D.C. have a firm grip on the wheel.