Ireland always was, and still largely continues to be, on the fringes of popular music. Occasional breakthroughs from U2 and Sinead O’Connor briefly cast eyes over to the Emerald Isle, but by and large, intense focus on America and the UK left Ireland stranded in its own world. For a band like Fontaines D.C., the battle between hometown pride and larger ambitions is what helps fuel their creative drive.
That dichotomy lives within the very fabric of Skinty Fia, the band’s third studio album. The title itself is a colloquialism from Ireland, rich with symbolism but also with vulgarity. That balance between beauty and blunt anger is what Skinty Fia thrives on as Fontaines D.C. deliver their warmest and most easily accessible album to date.
“It’s about being Irish and expressing that in London, and what can you take with you that makes you feel connected to home,” bassist Conor Deegan III explains. “We really tried to hold on to the things that made us Irish. There’s a sentimentality of sitting in an Irish pub in London, surrounded by other Irish people and it’s 4am, the lights are going off and half-remembering these old songs. On the other hand, there’s something dark and a little bit bleak about that.”
Far Out Meets: Fontaines D.C. – On the eve of a hattrick of masterpieces
The band have never needed any help in channelling bleakness. 2019’s Dogrel brimmed with youthful rage while 2020’s A Hero’s Death was more bleary and disconnected from reality. In both cases, the band were never afraid to take a circuitous path, whether that was through lead singer Grian Chatten’s poetic lyrics or the waves of effects employed by guitarists Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley. But Skinty Fia is something different: straightforward, direct, and even welcoming at times.
Take the album’s penultimate track, ‘I Love You’. Already standing in stark contrast to their previous work in title alone, the song works as a sort of self-test to see if Fontaines D.C. can still be smart, interesting, and atypical through the lens of a more traditional ode to their home country.
“It reminds me of Kae Tempest saying, ‘I trap you. I trap you so much’. It’s the same kind of thing,” Chatten offers. “But I mean, the reason that I wanted to call a track ‘I Love You’ is because it’s the cliché in it I found very attractive. Because it meant there was a lot of work to be done in order to justify such a basic song title. And not have it be a cliché tune.”
Mixes of warmth and darkness find the band cherry-picking their best qualities and shaving off some of their rougher edges. ‘Jackie Down the Line’ talks about manipulation and pain while still coming packaged in a catchy rock tune. ‘Roman Holliday’ finds the band at their most summery and optimistic, and it’s quickly followed up by the accordion-heavy pub singalong ‘The Couple Across the Way’.
If you’re worried that this means Fontaines D.C. have gone soft, you needn’t lose any sleep. Songs like ‘How Cold Love Is’ and ‘Bloomsdale’ retain an icy view of trust and ageing while a palpable chill runs through the band’s arrangements. But when you find yourself nodding along to infectious grooves of the album’s title track, it serves as a reminder that Fontaines D.C. don’t have to be reliant on a single sound or a single point of view. Skinty Fia is what freedom sounds like from the Irish lads.
Sonically, Fontaines D.C. embrace hypnotic rhythms, lighter guitar tones, and even danceable rhythms throughout Skinty Fia. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Chatten’s new approach to vocals, which retain the detached monotone that has become his signature sound while actually tapping into melody. It’s hard to call it “traditional singing”, since staying on pitch still isn’t really all that much of a concern, but allows the band to break out of their doom-and-gloom spirals that would have made this album a Hero’s Death: Part II.
Fontaines D.C. are one of the few bands that are able to successfully broaden their appeal without sacrificing what makes them so unique in the first place. For anyone who had heard the praise that this band was getting but was turned off by the darkness and intensity of A Hero’s Death, then Skinty Fia is the perfect album to take the dive. It will no doubt serve as the entry point for scores of new fans in the future, which ultimately makes the lighter turn on Skinty Fia an unquestionable success.